Rwanda is quickly earning itself the reputation as the outright leader on African health-related issues. Civil war devastated the country in the early 1990s, but since fighting ended in 1994 Rwanda has become a success story for war-torn countries in the developing world. Life expectancy has doubled in the last 18 years, from 28 years in 1994 to 56 years in 2012. The countries national health insurance program, Mutuelle de Santé, covers 90.6 percent of the population, with a positive feedback rate of 72.7 percent. Since 2005 alone, Rwanda has managed to reduce the number of malaria deaths by a staggering 85.3 percent. Now, the Ministry of Health is beginning to place a greater focus on a less discussed African heath issue: the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Non-communicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes are frequently considered to be ‘first world’ diseases that have developed as a result of the overindulgent, unhealthy lifestyles of the world’s wealthier nations. Infectious diseases on the other hand, like HIV, malaria and cholera are perceived as ‘third world’ diseases. Whilst infectious diseases are endemic in many parts of Africa, so too are non-communicable diseases. Developing nations are rapidly transforming their economies and their way of life, and unfortunately, this is also leading to an increase in NCD related deaths. According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent (29 milion) of the annual NCD deaths worldwide occur in low and middle-income countries.
Speaking at the first NCD Synergies Network conference on Monday, Rwandan Minister of Health, Agnes Binagaho said, “Rwanda has made remarkable progress in fighting communicable diseases, and is now making progress in the fight against NCDs. The fight against NCDs calls for global networking and solidarity.” The event, held in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, was aimed at providing assistance to low-income countries for developing multisectoral national policies to prevent the rise in NCDs. At present, NCDs account for 29 percent of deaths in Rwanda, with cardiovascular disease being the biggest killer at 12 percent.
A Solid Partnership
The two-day meeting is a joint venture between the Rwandan Ministry of Health and Partners in Health, an international non-profit organization focused on making health care accessible to the world’s poorest communities. Since 2005, Partners in Health have been working alongside the Rwandan government to bring reliable health care to its citizens, using direct approaches in the early stages before stepping back and advising from a distance. Whilst maintaining their work in the field of infectious disease, both are encouraging other African governments to implement national policies aimed at combatting non-communicable diseases.
This event, hopefully the first of many, follows up on the 2011 NCD agenda-setting summit in New York. Progress has since been slow and few countries have developed coherent national policy plans aimed at reducing NCDs. The 150 participants came together for an educated discussion on how to build upon the hard work that has already been done. Rwanda, for its part, is looking to lead the way.
The views expressed here are independent and do not necessarily represent those of the staff or directors of EAF.