Government unveils NCD strategic plan

Government unveils NCD strategic plan

With non-communicable diseases (NCDs) accounting for almost half of all deaths in South Africa, the department of health has released a new strategy to curb rising rates of diseases such as diabetes, cancer and hypertension.

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fitThe 80-page Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2013-2017 outlines three main components to combat NCDs, including healthy lifestyle promotion, health systems strengthening, as well as monitoring cases and risk factors.

“We believe that these three sub-strategies will help us make the shift and get us the control we are looking for,” said Melvyn Freeman, who is chief director for NCDs at the national department of health.

NCDs are not only a health concern, but also threaten the country’s future economic and social development more broadly.

People with hypertension and diabetes account for about 17 million visits to health centres each year in South Africa. This results in significant health care costs and use of human resources, placing enormous strain on an already struggling health care system.

A healthy diet and regular exercise, as well as avoiding smoking and heavy drinking can prevent about 80 percent of NCDs, which makes identifying at-risk individuals- and helping them live better an important part of the plan.

“There is a considerable body of research that strongly supports the benefits of lifestyle change as a means of decreasing chronic diseases of lifestyle risk,” says Bongani Mayosi, head of department of medicine at the University of Cape Town.

In South Africa, behaviour change requires more than just individual commitment to health and wellness. According to the plan, poor people have less access to nutritious foods, which can cost up to 60 percent more than unhealthy alternatives, and fewer opportunities for physical activity.

This often pushes people toward bad habits, such as alcohol and smoking, says the plan. It cites that poverty alleviation, job creation, improved public transport, more equitable health services and better food legislation will all be vital in combating NCDs. The plan proposes measures, such as possible taxes on processed, fatty foods and regulations to reduce salt in these kinds of foods, be considered.

South Africans consume about 10g of salt daily and high salt intake is estimated to cause a third of all hypertension cases in South Africa.

Consideration may also be given to banning junk food advertisements to children during key television programmes.

Doctors in several provinces are already been trained on a newly released package of tools to accompany the plan and help health care workers council patients on healthy living.

Developed by the Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa (CDIA), the iChange4Health initiative provides health care workers with educational and motivational materials to help clinicians explain NCD risk factors to patients.

A partnership between South African and American universities as well as the Medicines Research Council, CDIA has already trained doctors from eight medical schools on the package. These doctors will be responsible for training others nationwide.

“International research shows that even just a few minutes discussion time in the consultation on smoking, diet, drinking and physical activity can help motivate patients to change their habits,” explains Mariska Fouché, spokesperson for generic medicine manufacturer Pharma Dynamics, which is responsible for the nationwide roll out. – Health-e News Service.

Some of the department of health’s other targets for 2020 include:

  • Reducing tobacco and alcohol use by 20 percent;
  • Reducing obesity by 10 percent and increasing levels of physical activity by the same amount;
  • Increase the number of controlled hypertension, diabetic and asthmatic patients by 30 percent;
  • Increase the number of people screened and treated for mental disorders by 30 percent.