Dar es Salaam — The prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) is increasing throughout the world at an alarming rate, accounting for over 70 per cent of all deaths globally, the recent World Health Organisation (WHO) reports indicate.
NCDs constitute a big threat to health and development as they affect human resources largely.
This calls for more financial resources to curb the diseases globally.
This follows, the fact that populations around the world are increasingly exposed to fast foods and unhealthy diets (those which have a high content in fats, free sugars and salt) are among some of the leading causes of NCDs including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
These were some of the issues that were discussed during the Mwananchi Thought Leadership Forum, dubbed 'Our Health, Our Lifestyle', organised by the Mwananchi Communications Limited and hosted at the Kisenga Lapf International Conference Centre in Dar es Salaam last Thursday.
Fixing the obesity problem
Obesity and overweight, which occur as the result of consuming unhealthy diets, was among the key topics that triggered a strong debate at the forum.
The forum had brought together health stakeholders from universities, government sectors, private sector and Non-governmental Organisations to share experiences and come up with recommendations to curb NCDs in Tanzania.
Addressing the participants during the event, the country representative of World Health Organisation in Tanzania, Dr Adiele Onyeze stated, "Without comprehensive interventions, the risk factors will continue to rise across the globe, which may contribute to the increasing of prevalence rate of the NCDs."
He further commended the fifth phase government's commitment to curb the diseases.
Commenting further during the forum, Dr Onyeze expressed his optimism that the forum would help transform healthcare settings in the country, calling on people to change their lifestyles in efforts to avoid being at high risk of developing NCDs.
Tape measure test
One of the participants during the event, whipped out a blue tape measure to emphasise the need to self-track obesity, one of the major risk factors of NCDs.
The participant, who grabbed the crowd's attention, said that it is a screening that does not require foreign aid.
Holding up the blue tape measure, he said there was a 'very high risk' of falling prey to NCDs with waistlines over 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women.
He urged people at the forum to keep an eye on their waist measurement as losing weight was the biggest thing one can do to be safe from NCDs.
In Tanzania, obesity prevalence has been shown to be higher among urban men and women compared to their rural counterparts, however, the recent change in lifestyles show that the obesity prevalence is also growing among people dwelling in rural areas at almost the same rate as their urban counterparts due to their access to fast foods, processed foods and unhealthy diets.
Obesity is defined as an adult having a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater or equal to 30.0. BMI is calculated by taking a person's weight in kilogram and dividing it by the person's squared height in meters. According to 2015-2016 Demographic and Health Survey and Malaria Indicator Survey implemented by National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), at least 28 per cent of Tanzanian women are overweight or obese, attributed to their level of education and household wealth status.
Women in urban areas (42 per cent) are twice more likely to be overweight or obese than women in rural areas (21 per cent).
Overweight and obesity among Tanzanian women has more than doubled in the past 25 years, from 11 per cent in 1991/92 to 28 per cent in 2015/16, according to the survey findings.
Delivering his remarks during the forum, the Chairman of the Tanzania Diabetes Association, Prof Andrew Swai suggested that doubling of efforts was necessary such as increasing the health budget to curb NCDs, noting that the move would accelerate the country's economic and social growth though the industrialisation drive. "Physical exercises and abstaining from using harmful substances such as tobacco and excessive alcohol are the factors to curb NCDs, I therefore encourage people to change their lifestyles," he said.
The minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, the Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, who also graced the forum, admitted that despite the government recently increasing the health budget, it still experiences an acute shortage of financial resources and human resources to curb the diseases. "The government is yet to combat NCDs successfully due to the shortages of financial resources and human resources facing the health sector," she said.
Commenting on NCDs burden in the country, the health minister assured the participants of the government's determination to address NCDs by cooperating with the donors.
"NCDs affect the human resources hence adequate financial resources are required to treat the diseases. They account for deaths of millions of people worldwide," she said.