Sometime back, it was common to hear one say “those are white man diseases” in references to some diseases that were quite uncommon among us Kenyans, and generally uncommon to the African continent. Some might argue that before, these diseases were rare because they went undiagnosed. Either due to lack of knowledge about the illnesses or as a dismissal for another illness or because they were associated with a myth. Another school of thought  will argue that previous generations lived  healthier lifestyles.

Whatever the argument, the fact is that the cases of non communicable diseases in Kenya are on the rise. Their occurrence has a huge impact on the lives of those who fall ill and their loved ones. The importance of understanding this illnesses cannot be underestimated. Of most importance is working towards preventing as many people as possible from acquiring this illnesses and reducing their impact in the lives of those who are already living with this illnesses

What are non-communicable diseases?

Non communicable diseases, also known as NCDs, are health conditions that cannot be spread from one person to another. They are acquired through a combination of factors that are commonly known as risk factors. Some people are more at risk of acquiring one of this or a combination of this illnesses  depending on how many risk factors they are exposed to. There are a couple of risk factors that we have some control over(modifiable) and there are some that we cannot really change or modify(nonmodifiable). Opting for a healthy lifestyle(diet modification and exercise with avoidance of excess alcohol and cessation of smoking) is the most important way to protect against acquiring NCDS.

Categories of non communicable diseases

  1. Cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke). These are the number 1 cause of death world wide. They are majorly disorders of the heart and blood vessels that lead to reduced quality of life.
  2. Cancer ; cancers are the second leading cause of death globally following cardiovascular diseases some are more common than others and the prognosis of each type varies depending on organs affected and the stage.
  3. Diabetes; comes about when there is uncontrolled blood sugar levels. It insidious onset makes most cases of diabetes go undiagnosed for along time and its late diagnosis leads to inevitable complications.
  4. Chronic respiratory diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma) affect the airways and other parts of the lungs; Apart from smoking tobacco, other environmental risk factors of chronic respiratory diseases include air pollution, inhaling chemicals and dust.
  5. Epilepsy chronic disease that affects the brain and causes seizures. It is one of the most common illnesses affecting the  nervous system. Up to 70% of people affected by epilepsy can leave a seizure free life with proper treatment and medication.

According to the World Health Organization, WHO, approximately 41 million people die from NCDs every year. This number accounts for 71% of global deaths annually. Low and middle income countries are the most hit by NCDs and they account for 77% of the global annual deaths.

NCDs impede the efforts to reduce poverty in low income countries, by directly raising the healthcare cost for affected families and individuals. Treatment of NCDs is quite expensive and lengthy.

Am I at the risk of NCDs?

Non communicable diseases affect people of all age groups. Children and adults are vulnerable to the risk factors of NCDS.Older age groups however have been found to be more vulnerable. The common risk factors of NCDs are unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and exposure to tobacco smoke and harmful use of alcohol.

Taking unhealthy diet and failing to engage in physical exercise is a clear example of a risk factor that comes out as increased blood pressure and obesity. This can lead to cardiovascular diseases. Risk factors of non-communicable diseases can be classified into behavioral and metabolic factors.

Behavioral risk factors of NCDs

These are factors that individuals can modify to reduce their chances of contracting NCDs. They include;

  1. Tobacco smoking
  2. Excessive consumption of alcohol
  3. Insufficient physical activity
  4. Unhealthy diet.

Metabolic risk factors of NCDs

These are bodily states that increase the risk of non-communicable diseases. They include;

  1. Obesity
  2. Increased blood pressure
  3. High levels of glucose in blood.
  4. High levels of fat in the blood.

There is a connection between behavioral and metabolic risk factors. For instance, unhealthy diets are likely to contribute to metabolic factors like obesity, increased glucose and fat in blood.

How to prevent non communicable diseases

Reducing the risk factors associated with NCDs is the best approach to controlling and preventing them. As far as a government is concerned, it can be helpful to facilitate collaboration of various sectors, be it education, healthcare and transport, to promote interventions aimed at reducing these risks.


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