Malawi: Time to act on Diabetes and related Non-Communicable Diseases
Malawi is one of the countries in Southern Africa facing a challenge in addressing non-communicable diseases and Diabetes in particular, for instance at the Queens Elizabeth Hospital in the Southern region of the country, it is estimated that 20 patients with Diabetic complications are visiting the health facility every week translating to 1040 patients per year.
In December 2006, at its 83rd plenary session, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 61/225 designating 14 November as World Diabetes Day. This landmark resolution recognizes diabetes as a chronic, debilitating and costly disease with major complications that pose severe risks to families, communities, countries and the world.
According to a 2009 survey on Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Malawi, it shows that 17% of deaths in males and 14% of females were attributed to NCDs, this list consists of diseases such as Diabetes, high blood pressure in people with increased levels on Cholesterol.
Globally WHO estimates that 70% of all deaths are due to NCDs with cardiovascular (heart diseases) complications leading the list and only 2% for Diabetes in 2009.
WHO expert on NCDs, Dr. Kelias Msyamboza says that there is a strong need for Malawi to carry out other studies to determine the magnitude of non communicable diseases, in which heart diseases based on raised cholesterol levels and diabetes must be clearly known for urgent redress.
The survey which targeted people in the age group of 25 to 64 years between July and September in 2009 attracted the participation of 5,451 people, with only 245 refusing to participate due to busy schedules showed that 37.2% of men had hypertension as compared to only 29% in females.
The prevalence of high blood pressure in both men and women increases with age in the age brackets of 25 to 34 and 55 to 64 years.
Other life threatening diseases such as Diabetes accounted to 6.5% in men and only 4.7% in women, while raised cholesterol levels represented 6.3% in males and 11% in females.
Diabetes which has been associated with wealthy urban class of people is not the case at present, as evidence shows increasing incidence of the disease in rural areas as compared to urban areas.
Journalists Association Against AIDS (JournAIDS) with financial and technical support from the Denmark based, World Diabetes Foundation, in collaboration with the Diabetes Association of Malawi and the College of Medicine is working towards raising awareness and advocating for action to address diabetes.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancers, diabetes, injury/violence, mental disorders, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, account for 35 million deaths each year, corresponding to 60% of all deaths worldwide.
The surprising fact is that 80% of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), which are traditionally thought of as primarily affected by communicable diseases, including malaria, tuberculosis and HIV and AIDS.
The World Bank indicates that NCDs are now among the most significant causes of illness and death in working-age populations in developing countries. Yet, financing the prevention and treatment of NCDs accounts for less than 1% of official development assistance (ODA) for health.
Contrary to popular belief NCDs do not only impact the elderly in high-income countries: In the developing world, NCDs such as diabetes and hypertension often affect individuals in their mid-forties and early fifties-during the most productive part of their lives-contributing to loss of productivity and higher rates of premature morbidity and mortality.
The explosive rise of NCDs attributed to aging populations, epidemiological transition, obesity and harmful lifestyles and environments against a background of rapid, unplanned urbanization and globalization requires multi-sectoral intervention.
- The private sector, non governmental organizations and Government in Malawi must all join hands and urgently meet in a high level meeting to address diabetes and NCDs as a matter of urgency and also to show commitment in line with UN resolution 61/225.
- There is need for the donor community in Malawi to consider creating a special basket fund to specifically address diabetes and NCDs, while also ensuring that the Sector Wide Approach (SWAp) gives a special attention to financing prevention and treatment interventions.
- The Ministry of Health must also ensure that the NCD action plan is quickly formulated and widely disseminated with all key relevant stakeholders such as Government Ministries of education and information, print and electronic media, civil society organizations especially those under the Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) and the private sector.
- We urge the private sector in Malawi to start mobilizing its own resources and demonstrate its corporate social responsibility by putting in place interventions to address NCDs and diabetes and not only relying on Government or the World Health Organization alone.
- We call upon NGOs working in the health sector to strongly advocate for increased awareness and prioritization of NCDs at all levels and in all sectors.
We therefore call upon all relevant institutions, Government, media and the private sector in Malawi to address diabetes and related non-communicable diseases by ensuring that advocacy and awareness-raising is put on high priority by increasing financing and dispel the myths associated with NCDs and diabetes in general.