491 18.07.2013 Delegates at the non-communication diseases conference, Dylan Woods from the Donald Words foundation, during an interview at Michelangelo Hotel, Sandton. Picture: Itumeleng English

Johannesburg - Early detection. That, according to Dr Evan Lee, is one of the key factors in fighting the scourge of non-communicable diseases in developing countries.

Lee, who is responsible for global pharmaceutical company Lilly’s worldwide health programmes, including its multidrug-resistant TB and non-communicable diseases (NCD) initiatives, spoke to The Star recently during an NCD conference at the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton.

Lilly has committed $30 million (R297m) over five years to fight the burden of NCDs in emerging economies and has targeted communities in Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa.

NCDs are not transmitted from one person to another by a germ or a biological agent, but are diseases of lifestyle, and include high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases and cancer.

“A lot of work still needs to be done in developing economies… In South Africa, in areas such as Zandspruit, where there are high levels of obesity and hypertension, mostly because of the changing lifestyles, we’ve had to ask ourselves what are the most effective ways of dealing with NCDs.

“People talk of prevention, but early detection and referrals are how we can best lower the burden of disease,” Lee said.

Stefan Lawson, the country manager for the NGO Project Hope, which has set up prevention campaigns and screenings for diabetes and hypertension at its Hope Centre in Zandspruit and Cosmo City, north of Joburg, said there was a huge need in communities at grassroots level for intervention.

“We have about 1 000 patients in Zandspruit. Two-thirds of them have hypertension, the rest have diabetes. Within the community, about 25 percent who have done screenings have high enough hypertension levels to be diagnosed as having high blood pressure, while others are borderline,” Lawson said.

He added that about 30 percent of the population had elevated blood pressure levels.

“It (hypertension) affects more women than men… the women have larger frames but, interestingly enough, while the men are skinnier, they have high blood pressure,” he continued.

Lawson said another challenge facing residents in the communities were the long waiting hours at government hospitals, resulting in many leaving the hospitals untreated.

“We are trying to set a standard at the centre of people coming in and getting out timeously so as to also encourage regular testing. We are also tackling changing people’s eating habits by introducing cooking classes to improve the traditional meals,” he said.

Dillon Woods, chief executive of the Donald Woods Foundation, which works on HIV as well as NCD programmes in the rural Eastern Cape, said their organisation had screened and tested 2 000 people this month and hoped to reach 5 000 each month by the end of the year.

Lee praised the Ministry of Health for facing what he said were “enormous challenges” in tackling NCDs as well as HIV and TB, adding that their jobs as pharmaceutical companies and NGOs was to improve health outcomes in the country. - The Star


Facts about NCDs

* Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) kill more than 36 million people each year.

* Nearly 80 percent of NCD deaths – 29 million – occur in low and middle-income countries.

* More than 9 million of all deaths attributed to NCDs occur before the age of 60; 90 percent of these “premature” deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries.

* Cardiovascular diseases account for most NCD deaths, or 17.3 million people annually, followed by cancers (7.6 million), respiratory diseases (4.2 million), and diabetes (1.3 million). These four groups of diseases account for about 80 percent of all NCD deaths.

* They share four risk factors: tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol, and unhealthy diets.

Source: World Health Organisation