I was perplexed when I heard my cousin’s death earlier this week. His elder brother died less than four months ago. After much inquiry, I discovered that he and his brother died due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), precisely kidney problems.
The news sent cold shivers down my spine and spurred the urgent need to examine the country’s increasing rate and economic burden of NCDs.
Non-communicable diseases are non-contagious diseases. NCDs, which include cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), malignancies, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and mental health disorders, are the leading causes of death worldwide and have been dubbed “a silent pandemic.”
In this 21st century, NCDs have been a significant health challenge and the leading cause of death globally. It accounts for approximately 71 percent of the 57 million deaths globally in 2016. NCDs contribute to economic losses, household poverty, and decreased productivity.
Globally, the burden of NCDs has increased due to several risk factors (high blood pressure, poor dietary habits, alcohol consumption, etc.) contributing to it. The burden of NCDs and the associated risk factors have gradually shifted towards the poor in developing countries.
Experts also predicted that Africa would have the most significant increase in the death rate from NCDs worldwide over the next decade.
Statistics show that more than three-quarters of all death in sub-Saharan Africa is linked to NCDs, which is expected to increase if urgent attention and policies are not put in place to forestall them.
While infectious diseases continue to be the leading cause of death in Nigeria, the country is currently experiencing an increase in the burden of NCDs, with premature mortality from NCDs estimated to be around five percent of the population.
For many years, Nigerian public health strategies have centered on the control of infectious diseases, resulting in the scarcity of data for policy decisions on non-communicable diseases. NCDs must now be given special attention in Nigerian communities since they account for about 29 percent of all deaths in the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) was granted a leadership role at the United Nations General Assembly. The World Health Assembly endorsed the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013–2020 (Global NCD Action Plan). The Global NCD Action Plan included a global monitoring system and nine voluntary global targets to be met by 2025.
These goals align with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development endorsed in September 2015 at the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development and the WHO 13th General Programme of Work 2019–2023, which the World Health Assembly adopted in May 2018.
The first worldwide goal is to reduce overall mortality from the four major NCDs (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases) by 25 percent.
CVDs are the primary cause of death, accounting for 17.5 million deaths each year, with high blood pressure being the leading risk factor for CVDs. Tobacco usage, harmful alcohol use, bad food, physical inactivity, and air pollution are all risk factors for these diseases.
Kidney disease is a type of non-communicable disease that involves the gradual damage of the kidney. The kidney filters wastes and excess fluids from the blood, which are removed by urine.
The malfunctioning of the kidney thereby causes dangerous levels of fluid and waste to build up in the body system. It can cause more death than prostate and breast cancer.
Approximately 90 percent of people with kidney disease are unaware that they have the disease.
The symptoms of chronic kidney disease may not be evident at the early stage of the disease until the condition is advanced. The loss of kidney function can cause nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weakness, more or less urination, sleep problems, loss of appetite, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, chest pain, and shortness of breath, among others.
Furthermore, some risk factors that increase kidney disease include high blood pressure, diabetes (type 1 or type 2), glomerulonephritis, smoking, obesity, heart disease, family history of kidney disease, old age, and frequent use of medications that are detrimental to the kidneys.
To prevent the risk of developing kidney disease, individuals must follow instructions on over-the-counter medications, maintain a healthy weight, and manage their medical conditions properly with the help of their doctor.
The treatment of chronic kidney disease can be through dialysis (artificial filtering) and kidney transplant. This requires a considerable amount of money for patients in Nigeria and developing countries, unlike in developed countries where treatment costs are free. This is also contrary to the attainment of sustainable development goal three, which aims at attaining universal health coverage.
Busayo Aderounmu is an economist and researcher.