Results from the first Non-Communicable Disease (NCD)
Countdown 2030 Report show that South Africa is one of the countries that could
fail to reach the United Nation’s goal to decrease non-communicable diseases
(NCDs) by 2030.
Each year, NCD Countdown 2030 shows the achievements made by
186 countries to reduce the burden of NCDs. This is also part of the United
Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to reduce premature deaths caused by the
four major NCDs: cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases
Although the results of NCD Countdown are based on
researchers’ forecast for the next 12 years, existing evidence from previous
research shows that South Africa, has the highest rate of people who are
overweight and obese in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 70% of women being
overweight. Research has also proven that five out of every 10 adults in South
Africa suffer from hypertension.
The four major NCDs share common risk factors: tobacco use,
physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and an unhealthy
diet. Development, industrialisation, urbanisation and aging are also the
major drivers of the NCD epidemic in South Africa. A greater focus on political
will and regulation of the way in which products such as tobacco and alcohol
are promoted has to be monitored in South Africa where 718 people die every day
“The risk of death from NCDs has stagnated or decreased too
slowly in most countries and particularly on the African continent between 2010
and 2016,” says Prof Andre Pascal Kengne, NCD Countdown 2030 collaborator and
Unit Director at the South African Medical Research Council’s NCD Research
Unit. “It is time that we wake up to this cold fact that we need to address the
risk factors that contribute to all NCDs as they are
fast becoming the leading cause of death now accounting for more than HIV and
TB,” says Prof Kengne.
Although South Africa has introduced the regulation of salt
and tobacco products, 260 000 deaths were still associated with NCDs in
2016 alone, meaning that South Africa might have to speed up its implementation
of the WHO ‘best buys’ to deal with NCDs. These include strategies such as
vaccinating girls to prevent cervical cancer, educating people about the risk
of NCDs and effectively implementing and regulating the recently introduced
Prof Kengne adds that solely referring to NCDs as ‘lifestyle
diseases’ may be misleading – particularly in low-to-middle income countries.
This label suggests that individuals are unable to control themselves and
choose to eat poorly. “This notion ignores the socio-economic contexts that
often make it difficult for people to afford healthy food, to resist the
marketing of alcohol and tobacco products, or to engage in physical activity,”
says Prof Kengne.
“Low and middle-income countries need to reconfigure their
health-systems to address the constant increase of non-communicable diseases,”
says SAMRC President and Chairperson of the Global Alliance for Chronic
Diseases Prof Glenda Gray. “We are at a juncture where more has to be
done to prevent, diagnose and manage NCDs optimally in our countries and our
decisions will determine the extent to which we can take non-communicable
diseases interventions to scale and impact on this emerging epidemic,” says
According to NCD Countdown 2030, women between the ages 30 –
70 in Sierra Leone show the highest likelihood of dying as a result of NCDs at
32.6% while South African women show a 21.2% likelihood of death caused by
NCDs. Men between the ages of 30-70 in Sierra Leone and South Africa have a
28.2% likelihood of dying from NCDs and 32.3%, respectively, meaning that their
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will only be reached after 2040.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia showed a
likelihood to meet their SDG targets for 2030. In 2016, the likelihood of women
between the ages of 30 – 70 dying from NCDs was 17.4% in the DRC and 19.8% in
Zambia. Men in both the DRC and Zambia showed a 15.9% and an 18.7% chance of
death caused by NCDs.
The NCD Countdown 2030 report was published in the Lancet to
coincide with the third High Level Meeting on NCDs held in New York last month.
To access the Lancet report, go to: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31992-5/fulltext