Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) constitute a serious hindrance to achieving the African Union’s vision of Agenda 2063 to build an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens. Each year, NCDs lead to millions of premature deaths and disabled lives across Africa with an economic loss of billions of US-Dollars.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that over the next 10 years, Africa will experience a 27 percent increase in deaths from NCDs. This means that, by 2030, NCDs are expected to become the leading cause of death in Africa, exceeding deaths caused by communicable, maternal, perinatal, and nutritional diseases combined. There is, therefore, an urgent need to significantly increase attention to the prevention and control of NCDs across Africa to curtail the impending epidemic on the continent.
Cognisant of these challenges, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), a specialised technical institution of the African Union established to support public health initiatives of Member States and strengthen their capacity to effectively tackle disease threats, has developed the Africa CDC Non-Communicable Diseases, Injuries Prevention and Control and Mental Health Promotion Strategy (2022-26) which presents a multi-sectoral approach that systematically addresses NCDs across the continent.
The non-communicable diseases crisis in Africa
While the focus of public health policymakers in Africa has been overwhelmingly on communicable diseases, NCDs have permeated many corners in Africa and their overall share of the disease burden is increasing rapidly. Increased prevalence of hypertension, diabetes mellitus and other metabolic syndromes and their risk factors account for a significant percentage of the increase in NCDs, with cardiovascular diseases and cancers causing most premature deaths.
The burden of NCDs among African Union Member States is higher than the global average. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the burden of NCDs grew by 67 percent between 1990 and 2017.
The Africa CDC strategy for tackling NCDs
African countries, the African Union Commission and indeed global institutions have previously set health goals to decrease the burden of diseases, including NCDs on the continent.
However, continent-wide interventions are necessary to create synergy, innovation, and capital in a joint response to the public health needs of the continent. The Africa CDC Strategy for the prevention and control of NCDs, therefore seeks to bring all these policies together in a set of strategic actions to support Member States in their implementation of activities for the prevention and control of NCDs.
The Strategy will complement existing national plans for these activities through provision of direct technical support, advocacy for increased funding and use of peer review mechanisms for cross cutting learning and monitoring and evaluation.
It will also contextualize global strategies for prevention and control of NCDs to the African context, considering the level of health system development on the continent and its unique socioeconomic situation.
Moving towards a new public health order for NCDs
To achieve its objectives and lay the foundation for a new public health order for NCDs on the continent, the Africa CDC has adopted the following implementation plans, amongst others:
1. Creating flagship initiatives: The Africa CDC will implement the Strategy, using flagship initiatives that are defined strategically and scientifically based on Member States’ most important specific support needs. These flagship initiatives will harness the strength of existing platforms to provide innovations, long-term impact, and more awareness among the public.
2. Building trusted and strategic partnerships: Cognizant of the excellent organisations that help prevent and control NCDs on the continent, the Africa CDC will form partnerships to build on this existing coalition.
It will intensively engage with stakeholders committed to the mission of transforming health systems, including the private sector, ensuring a broad range of experiences and perspectives, averting duplication, and creating networks and synergies.
3. Developing sustainable funding mechanisms: The Africa CDC will mobilise resources and expand the policy space for NCDs through advocacy at the highest African political levels, priority setting support, regional funding mechanisms, pooled procurement, and local manufacture.
4. Improve access to affordable technologies, medicines, and diagnostics required for NCDs by supporting the local manufacture and pooled procurement of these goods and supporting Member States to develop capacity for supply chain management and quality management.
5. Harnessing expertise from a Technical Advisory Group: To steer well, selected representatives from Member States, Regional Collaborating Centres, and independent technical experts will advise on emerging issues and other related matters of NCDs, including strategic planning, implementation approaches, activities, advocacy, resource mobilisation, and assessing progress.
It is worth mentioning that Bloom Public Health has been building its reputation as one of the most credible technical partners to health-related innovations in Africa and was recently inaugurated along with global institutions such as WHO, UNICEF, and USAID, into the Technical Working Group (TWG) Committee that will support the mRNA technology transfer for local vaccine development and manufacturing in Nigeria.
Given the tremendous opportunities that the Africa CDC Strategy provides to tackle NCDs and reduce the global burden of disease in Africa, African governments and all relevant stakeholders must show full commitment and readiness to work collaboratively with the Africa CDC to realise its goals for better healthcare in Africa.
Anyakora is the CEO of Bloom Public Health and a public health expert & Odibeli is a pharmacist and the regional communications manager at Bloom Public Health