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Uganda needs a minimum of sh3b to carry out research on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that has since become the country’s biggest health problem.

NCDs include heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, hypertension and chronic respiratory diseases, among others.

Stressing that research is at the centre of prevention of NCDs, Prof. Charles Ibingira, the principal of Makerere University College of Health Sciences, said currently, most of the money $20m (about sh73b) injected at the college for research is for communicable diseases such as HIV/ AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

“We are currently using data from the western world to access NCDs in Uganda. But we do not know which tribes are most affected by NCDs or the most dangerous foods that cause these diseases. We also need to know how genres play in the development of cancers in Uganda’s population and the regions with the highest prevalence,” he said.

Ibingira was speaking on the sidelines of Ministry of Health’s press briefing on NCDs at the Uganda Media Centre recently.
He said the results generated from research will be used to formulate better interventions against NCDs, especially in prevention, education and sensitisation of the public.

“We shall also be able to intensify early screening mechanisms, surveillance and follow-up on patients,” Ibingira said. He added that adding that knowledge on medical herbs that can be used for treatment of NCDs will help boost the local drug industry.

He said Makerere in partnership with St. Augustine International University in Bunga, a city suburb in December last year, held a fundraising drive geared towards setting up a research fund on NCDs and has so far generated sh652m. Ibingira, however  asked the Government to supplement their efforts by setting aside funds for the cause.

Background

Between March and July 2014, Uganda carried out a survey to assess the burden of NCDs as estimated by the World Health Organisation. The survey is meant to help countries develop their own surveillance system to monitor and fight against non-communicable diseases.

Results from the survey demonstrated that NCDs are their risk factors are a public health problem in Uganda, revealing a high prevalence hypertension among Ugandans, majority of who are not aware of their hypertension status.

The survey further revealed that one in 10 people have more than three risk factors for NCDs.

Mindset change

However,  Dr. Gerald Mutungi, who heads the NCD department at the health ministry projects, said if nothing is done, cardiovascular diseases will be the commonest cause of death in Uganda in five years to come.

“Being fat is celebrated in some of our communities. There are those who believe that when a bride is getting married, they have to be fattened intentionally yet they are promoting obesity,” Mutungi said, calling for a mindset change.

He said NCDs are as a result of physical inactivity, tobacco and alcohol consumption, eating unhealthy foods with lots of fat, sugar and salt and failure to go for regular health checkups.

NCD symposium

As part of creating awareness on the magnitude of NCDs, Uganda is set to hold the first international NCDs symposium between February 12 and 14, 2018 under the theme, “Building Momentum to Address the Growing Epidemic of Non Communicable Diseases in Africa”

The symposium organised by the health ministry, Makerere and St. Augustine International University is expected to among other things, discuss the unrecognised yet growing epidemic of NDCs. The team will create a platform to discuss the currently available data on the diseases and to generate roadmaps and resolutions for immediate action.

Speaking at the briefing, Dr Henry Mwebesa, the acting director general of health services at the health ministry, said in Uganda, NCDs, including injuries, account for 40% of all deaths annually.

“In recognition of the high burden of NCDs in Uganda, the ministry established an NDC department and developed a policy on NCDs which is currently in its advanced stages,” Mwebesa said.

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