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Push for Awareness in Otherwise Silent Non-Communicable Diseases

FILE - Clinical oncologists Dr. Joel Yarney (R) and Dr. Clement Edusa look at a scan of a cancer patient on a computer screen.

While HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other communicable diseases have been grabbing headlines, less talked about non-communicable diseases, are quietly killing many Zimbabweans.

An estimated 31% of deaths in Zimbabwe in 2014 were a result of non-communicable diseases, World Health Organization statistics show.

Private practitioner and former chair of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, Douglas Gwatidzo, explained NCD’s as those diseases or conditions that do not spread through to others.

“What we call droplet infection where somebody coughs up some stuff which is loaded with bacteria and then its passed on to another person, or somebody sits next to someone and rubs shoulders and pass it on like that,” said Gwatidzo.

What they are explained Dr. Gwatidzo, are the equally dangerous, but sometimes harder to detect, diseases. He said there’s a whole range of them.

“Cardiovascular diseases, those diseases that affect mostly the heart, and then you can have other diseases that are hormone controlled, like diabetes, and then you have got a variety of cancers, that are also non communicable, but a word of caution, some cancers have what we call, pre-disposing factors that are of an infective nature. In other words someone gets an infection from someone and then they later develop cancer.”

According to statistics in Zimbabwe, cardiovascular disease like heart attack and stokes account for 9% of deaths from NCDs, while 10% of deaths were result of cancer illnesses.

Among these this group of infections cancers, says Dr. Ann Kaparau, a cancer specialist, is cervical cancer and other types which she says are closely linked to HIV.

“These include cervical cancer, Kaposi’s Sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and eye cancer. So the burden of cancer has been increased by the HIV-disease,” says Kaparau.

Efforts to stop the spread of such cancers, which come from contact, are vaccines. As Dr. Bernard Madzima explained, efforts are underway to tackle the human papillomavirus or HPV.

“The most important thing is maybe to prevent, and then to detect early. We are piloting what is called the Human Papiloma Virus vaccine which we are going to be giving to 9 and 13-year-old girls, to pilot in two districts, Beitbridge and Seke Districts,” said Madzima.

While reports indicate an increase in cases of NCDs, Dr. Gwatidzo said the level of awareness now is more likely a result of better detection as more people are diagnosed or find access to medical facilities.

He adds there is increase awareness and increased access to health making it possible to medical professionals to detect a person’s particular medical condition and treat it accordingly.

Health professionals stress prevention as the best way to avoid getting illnesses that are communicable, like HIV, and also non-communicable, such as heart disease and diabetes, both of which are triggered by poor life lifestyle habits, such as poor diet and lack of exercise.

“When it comes to diet, I would advise people to avoid fast food as much as possible, I know it’s very hard to avoid that kind of food, but just avoid fast foods and eat lots of vegetables. The recommended portions in a normal dish are half the plate should be made of vegetables, and a quarter should be starch and a quarter protein. So if you stick to that diet, you decrease the chances of you having so many calories in your body.”

Further, said Dr. Gwatidzo, a factor of concern with NCDs is that they are hereditary and can be passed on from one generation to the next.

“In other words, if one parent had, or one relative had the condition, chances of a sibling or the children getting that condition is high,” said Gwatidzo.

He said though, there are the odd cases where one can trace their family medical history and fail to find incidents of illness, this can be found with diabetes cases and some cancers.

Dr. Gwatizo said offsetting diabetes, heart disease or even strokes, can be fun, involving a little music and dancing.

He advised people to become active, and for those who have access to join group activities like aerobics, dancing or even a walkathon.