Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), otherwise known as chronic diseases, do not spread from person to person.
They include hypertension, diabetes, asthma, cancer and mental illness as well as kidney disease and stroke which are complications associated with hypertension and diabetes.
NCDs are a global problem. Their incidence, prevalence and burden have increased sharply in the last 20 years.
In Malawi, non-communicable diseases are increasingly becoming a significant cause of morbidity and mortality, coming second to HIV in adults.
Some of these diseases are a result of personal traits, heredity, life style and environmental factors.
Environmental factors, including air pollution, pose health risks to people as they may cause or provoke these non-communicable diseases.
Diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) is caused by repeated exposure to harmful chemicals or dust while asthma is sometimes provoked by these factors.
A violation of the rules of health—including harmful use of alcohol, physically inactivity, consumption of unhealthy diet and increased use of tobacco products, especially smoking—worsens the gravity of the situation.
Most of these diseases are not curable, but can be successfully controlled. They often require daily medications and behaviour management plan.
The effects of non-communicable diseases are very devastating.
They are associated with posing enormous economic and developmental challenges. The economic impact affects everyone in society; individuals, families, communities, health delivery system and entire country.
In the country, these diseases threaten the attainment of global goals to end poverty in all forms, ensure healthy lives and promote the well-being for all at all ages.
At global level, they slow progress on poverty alleviation as spelled out in the Sustainable Development Goals.
The United Nations (UN) became involved in ending non-communicable diseases after realising that they are critical to development agenda beyond health sector.
NCDs diseases are no more a World Health Organisation (WHO) issue alone, but an interagency affair.
All agencies—including World Bank, UN Development Programme (UNDP),the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and International Labour Organisations (ILO)— are working with government to reduce the impact of NCDs globally.
Key objectives in the six objectives of WHO action plan on non-communicable diseases are to raise global and national priority on NCDs, promote government involvement and ensure all actions on NCDs feature in the development agenda.
It is time our government developed viable national NCDs action plan to spearhead the implementation of the WHO resolutions.
Malawi government must institute policies that improve awareness and protect people who are battling NCDs.
Although the challenges associated with these diseases are incredible, they are not insurmountable.
Many risks and consequences are preventable, but solutions really do exist.
Measures to reduce smoking and other use of tobacco products; cutting back on alcohol consumption; promoting health diets and physical activity; and screening and treatment of conditions like heart diseases and cancer are best buys in public health terms.
In fact, government cannot start from square one. Already, it has the vision and tools to prevent NCDs and its risk factors.
The NCDs Unit in the Ministry of Health has a lot of work to do.
It has to raise the awareness of these diseases and their risks at individual, community and policy levels.
The NCDs Unit may get evidence of the harm and cost of the disease and its risks factors, but cannot successfully bring solutions on its own.
It needs the support of all stakeholders and partners, including non-governmental organisations, when it comes to funding and technical expertise.
To be successful, the NCDs Unit need commitment from all levels of the society and all sectors.
The leadership and political will of the government is a prerequisite to ending NCDs. n