A Looming Threat as Non-Communicable Diseases Surge in Tanzania

Photo Credit: A.Wang/ World Health Organisation

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Like many African countries, Tanzania is witnessing an alarming increase in NCDs, the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and respiratory diseases, has been steadily rising in Tanzania and across Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs account for approximately 34% of deaths in Tanzania. Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and respiratory diseases have become leading causes of morbidity and mortality, posing significant challenges to the healthcare system.

Preventing NCDs requires addressing risk factors such as unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and harmful alcohol consumption.

The statistics show tobacco users to be (15.9%), current alcohol drinkers (29.3%), ate less than 5 servings of fruit and/or vegetables on average per day (97.2%), overweight and obese (29%), raised cholesterol (26%) and raised triglycerides (33.8%). All these stats emanate largely from a lack of physical activity and poor eating habits.

Physical inactivity is one of the clusters of NCD risk factors that increases the risk of or causes most NCDs. It also contributes to the four critical metabolic /physiological changes that increase the risk of NCDs: raised blood pressure, overweight/obesity, hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels), and hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood).

However, implementing effective preventive measures is challenging due to various factors. Poverty, limited education, cultural practices, and inadequate health promotion contribute to the prevalence of risk factors. Furthermore, limited access to screening programs, diagnostic facilities, and trained healthcare professionals hinders the early detection of NCDs.

NCDs affect the country economically. According to an article published in The Citizen on 4th September 2022, Tanzania’s Health Minister, Hon. Ummy Mwalimu, revealed a significant increase in the country’s expenditure on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

The nation allocated a total of TSh 99 billion for NCD treatments in the fiscal year 2021/22, marking a dramatic rise from the TSh 35.65 billion spent in 2016/17. The funds were majorly channeled towards services for chemotherapy, hemodialysis, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes treatments.

This growing financial burden underlines the urgent necessity for integrating HIV/AIDS strategies with initiatives tackling NCDs. The basis for this proposition is further strengthened by a Tanzanian case study exploring the integration of HIV and NCD services. This research sought to identify the prevalence and factors associated with NCDs among HIV-positive individuals on long-term Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) or ART naïve.

Findings from the study highlight a profound revelation. While ART has undoubtedly improved the life expectancy of people living with HIV, it also contributes to a heightened risk of NCDs. Therefore, considering this intricate relationship between HIV management and NCDs is crucial in devising effective healthcare strategies and allocating resources. This approach could prove instrumental in mitigating the economic strain on the country due to escalating healthcare costs.

Diverse Perspectives on NCD Management

Public Health Approach: One perspective advocates for a robust public health approach to combat NCDs. This includes implementing population-wide interventions, promoting healthy lifestyles, and strengthening healthcare infrastructure to ensure access to preventive services. Public health initiatives play a crucial role in creating awareness, education, and promoting behavior change, ultimately reducing the burden of NCDs.

Individual Responsibility: Another viewpoint emphasizes individual responsibility in managing NCDs. Advocates argue that individuals should prioritize their health, adopt healthier lifestyles, and actively engage in preventive measures. They say that personal choices, such as maintaining a balanced diet, regular exercise, and avoiding risk factors, significantly reduce NCDs’ burden.

Health insurance can be pivotal in addressing the challenges associated with NCDs in Tanzania:

Promoting Preventive Measures: Health insurance providers can incentivize policyholders to adopt preventive measures by offering coverage for health screenings, vaccinations, and wellness programs. This encourages individuals to undergo regular check-ups, leading to early detection and timely intervention.

Access to Affordable Treatment: Health insurance enables individuals to access affordable treatment for NCDs. By covering costs related to medications, consultations, hospitalization, and specialized therapies, insurance alleviates the financial burden on individuals and ensures timely and comprehensive care.

Generally, the rising burden of NCDs in Tanzania requires comprehensive strategies that address prevention, early detection, and management. Public health approaches focusing on awareness campaigns, education, and population-wide interventions are crucial. Simultaneously, promoting individual responsibility and empowering individuals to make healthier lifestyle choices is essential.

Health insurance can complement these efforts by incentivizing preventive measures and providing affordable access to treatment. Collaborative efforts between the government, healthcare providers, insurers, and communities are necessary to mitigate the impact of NCDs and create a healthier future for Tanzania and Africa.

By addressing the challenges and harnessing the potential of health insurance, Tanzania can take significant strides toward reducing the burden of Non-Communicable Diseases, improving health outcomes, and ensuring a brighter future for its citizens.

Read more productive analysis here.

A prolific writer specializing in the realms of business, banking, and finance. She holds a degree in Finance and Insurance, which bolsters her in-depth exploration and astute understanding of complex industry practices. Caroline leverages her academic acumen to scrutinize and challenge conventional business norms, transforming her findings into engaging, insightful articles. She is known for her forward-thinking analysis and her knack for identifying potential opportunities and addressing sectoral challenges. Through her professional writing, Caroline not only unravels the intricacies of financial and business landscapes, but also aims to foster an informed dialogue that can drive industry innovation and reform.

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