The Rwanda Focus
22 July 2013
by Laurent KAMANA
At the end of a two-day meeting on non-communicable diseases in Kigali last week, participants worried they had made too big a promise.
Around 150 attendees from 18 countries agreed to reduce the mortality due to non-communicable diseases by a staggering 80% for people under 40 years old by the year 2020. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are those that are not contagious; they cannot be passed from person to person. They include auto-immune diseases, cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.
Health Minister Agnes Binagwaho however was confident that the target could be reached. “We must not only have clear plans but also be ambitious and optimistic on what to achieve. We cannot worry; otherwise, our people will keep on dying. We have to prevent them from dying from diseases we’re able to diagnose and treat.”
“The world doesn’t have enough ambitions. Countries like ours have to reflect on what we can do to improve the life status of our people.”
“We must not only have clear plans but also be ambitious and optimistic on what to achieve.”
The Minister referred to Rwanda’s 75% decrease in HIV, TB and malaria, leading Rwandans to have a longer life expectancy, to illustrate that an 80% reduction in non-communicable diseases is possible.
“We don’t come to the conference with a clear plan, instead with just a vision to do better and now we’re going to work with all sectors, because there are many deaths at work that we can avoid by better protecting people,” Binagwaho said.
Already, much has been done to deal with serious diseases like cancer as well as less serious conditions. Rwanda is now able to diagnose and treat many NCDs that, in the past, claimed lives.
The Minister stressed that there is no reason why developing countries should not be addressing these diseases. “Africa should work on what they can do before going and seek help for what they cannot do,” she said.
An effective approach to dealing with non-communicable diseases requires resource mobilization, the involvement of the civil society, policy-makers, the public sector, and current research on new diseases.
To many participants, the meeting came at the right moment to establish a network through which health personnel can share experiences and knowledge about policy and rules, new diseases and dedicated drugs, and new discoveries.
As Minister Binagwaho stated at the end of the conference, what matters more is not so much what was promised at the conference, but what participants are going to do about those promises after.