Public health experts say people should be regularly screened for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), and the behaviour could help curb an upward trend of the diseases and deaths in Rwanda.
Globally, some 41 million people die every year due to the NCDs. 77 per cent of the deaths are in low- and middle-income countries.
In Rwanda, heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and other non-infectious diseases accounted for 44 per cent of all deaths in 2016, according to estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The Ministry of health says the number of patients with heart diseases treated in Rwandan hospitals more than tripled between 2018 and 2020, from 25,353 to 88,486.
The rate of women who are overweight or obese has increased from 16 per cent in 2010 to 26 per cent in 2020, as per the figures of the Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey.
It is against this backdrop that a number of organisations have embarked on raising awareness among the Rwandan population.
“The NCDs are the kind of neglected diseases which don’t have a proper follow-up, and yet they kill a lot of people,” says Dr Augustin Gatera, who is in charge of NCDs at the WHO Rwanda.
“The number of people having NCDs is rising due to a lack of awareness. But through screening campaigns, we create an environment in which everybody gets to know their health status.”
Through monitoring progress and trends of the diseases, we can reduce their burden and the risk factors, says Health Promotion Organisation (HPO), a non-profit conducting a screening campaign in Kigali.
“We want people to be aware that these non-communicable diseases are killing more and more people due to the changing lifestyles, unhealthy diets and fewer physical activities,” said Benoît Ndagijimana, the HPO’s Executive Director.
“We take anthropometric measurements, and explain the causes and prevention of the diseases and for those who have the diseases, we advise them on best to manage them.
“This is the first screening campaign our organisation has done targeting many people, but we are looking forward to making it a regular exercise. That is because more people need to first know about these diseases and then we instil in them the habit of getting screened regularly.”
The probability of premature deaths from one of the four major NCDs (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases) in Rwanda is 19 per cent.
“These diseases are becoming worrisome these days because people, young and adult, die every now and then,” Eugénie Mukankuranga, a resident of Kimironko, Gasabo District, said after taking the tests.
“I’ve learnt that we need to start cutting down on fat and sugar foods, drink enough water, do physical exercise or walk often where possible. And I think more people should learn about their status.”