Tanzania grapples with non-communicable diseases | Africa | DW | 02.12.2017
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Tanzania grapples with non-communicable diseases

Many Tanzanians continue to succumb to non-communicable diseases every year. Despite several health campaigns, the majority get to know their health status when it's too late to save them, writes Anaclet Rwegayura.

Health authorities try to address the plight of sufferers on commemoration days by simply advising the population to be careful. On such days thousands flock to public grounds selected for the ceremonies to try and find out what their health status is. Those who are unable to get the time off their daily work are advised to get  tested at their own time in clinics around the country.

But post-diagnosis counselling alone will never make the diseases let up on sufferers. Day in, day out medical practitioners tell patients – 'watch your lifestyle, stop consuming this or that, take medication regularly, spend some time exercising in the gym or do jogging, and watch what you eat or drink.'

According to latest estimates at Dar es Salaam Ocean Road Cancer Institute, Tanzania registers around 50,000 new cases of cancer every year. But the country's largest cancer referral hospital can only handle 5,000 patients. Cancer is just a fraction of the burden of non-communicable diseases in the country.

Equally frightening and devastating is the diabetes monster. It is high time Tanzanian health authorities undertook, with full determination, the mission to rid the population of Type 2 Diabetes.

A decade ago, for instance, the demand for brown bread was rare. Nowadays, it sells like hotcakes because consumers are afraid of sugar diabetes. They have witnessed many deaths and lower limb amputations blamed on the disease, let alone sufferers who have lost hope of recovery.

The daily routine of diabetics getting treatment from hospitals includes medications such as Amaryl or Metformin, which are largely American patented products imported from pharmaceutical companies in India, Germany, Italy and South Africa.

People are convinced that such drugs help keep a patient's blood sugar levels evened out, but the greater danger is that drugs may only work for a few years, and eventually, stop working altogether.

Anaclet Rwegayura DW Kolumnist (privat)

DW columnist Anaclet Rwegayura

When that occurs, patients suffer more because their blood glucose level skyrockets such that they can't control it. They frantically resort to local herbal concoctions, some of which are actually palliative, but herbalists tend to guard their knowledge about such medicine as personal secrets.

Until recently, the Moringa oleifera, also called the drumstick tree, was a common alternative medicine offered by traditional healers for treating diabetes. Scientific studies have also confirmed the tree's unusually high nutritional value.

Although authorities have slapped a ban on dispensers of the moringa medicine, claiming it had terrible side effects on consumers, people still use its powdered leaves and seeds as an antioxidant and as a proven source of vitamins A and B3, magnesium, iron and other proven nutrients.

The question Tanzanians are asking themselves is, whether the official ban on moringa consumption was pushed by the big pharma industry in Western countries to frustrate local attempts at getting a solution to the diabetes problem?

It's not a secret that Big Pharma has been bribing doctors and hospitals around the world to prescribe their diabetes medication.

However, studies all over the world have shown that type 2 diabetes can be reversed. The burden of diabetes is basically an issue about keeping one's diet on track, but health authorities admit that many people in Tanzania are unaware that they suffer from this disease.

Wouldn't it be advisable for Tanzanian health authorities to give the population the information necessary to make informed decision on what they have to eat? In the final process, alleviation of this increasing burden will lead to saved resources for the nation's development needs.

Most recently while opening Tanzania's Academic Medical Centre at Mloganzila, Tanzanian President John Magufuli called for investment in the country's pharmaceutical sector.

It was a timely call that requires serious thought by would-be investors and actors in several other related sectors, including land use, botanical and pharmacological research as well as coordinated environment protection.

It would be ideal if Tanzania established plantations of medicinal plants, just as the colonial German administration did a century ago by planting cinchona trees in Usambara Mountains for quinine production to fight malaria.

Tanzania has many medicinal plants which should be scientifically studied, grown on large scale and processed for human treatment. This resource, however, is often destroyed in bushfires. Until new approaches are put into action, the country will continue to grapple with the ever increasing cases of non-communicable diseases.