Home Top Global NewsHealthcare In the blood: why diabetes is the scourge of entire families in Tanzania | Global development

In the blood: why diabetes is the scourge of entire families in Tanzania | Global development

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In the blood: why diabetes is the scourge of entire families in Tanzania | Global development

Testing her blood sugar each morning is an ingrained, if not always welcome, part of Elisaria Matau’s daily routine.

The 70-year-old retired Tanzanian businesswoman from Dar es Salaam has been living with type 2 diabetes for decades. Her late husband, a soldier, died of complications from diabetes, and she is one of six members of her extended family with the chronic disease.

His family’s health situation is not unusual. Government health sector reports show that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes are on the rise and now account for around 40% of Tanzania’s disease burden.

The human toll of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is huge and rising. These illnesses end the lives of approximately 41 million of the 56 million people who die every year – and three quarters of them are in the developing world.

NCDs are simply that; unlike, say, a virus, you can’t catch them. Instead, they are caused by a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural factors. The main types are cancers, chronic respiratory illnesses, diabetes and cardiovascular disease – heart attacks and stroke. Approximately 80% are preventable, and all are on the rise, spreading inexorably around the world as ageing populations and lifestyles pushed by economic growth and urbanisation make being unhealthy a global phenomenon.

NCDs, once seen as illnesses of the wealthy, now have a grip on the poor. Disease, disability and death are perfectly designed to create and widen inequality – and being poor makes it less likely you will be diagnosed accurately or treated.

Investment in tackling these common and chronic conditions that kill 71% of us is incredibly low, while the cost to families, economies and communities is staggeringly high.

In low-income countries NCDs – typically slow and debilitating illnesses – are seeing a fraction of the money needed being invested or donated. Attention remains focused on the threats from communicable diseases, yet cancer death rates have long sped past the death toll from malaria, TB and HIV/Aids combined.

‘A common condition’ is a new Guardian series reporting on NCDs in the developing world: their prevalence, the solutions, the causes and consequences, telling the stories of people living with these illnesses.

Tracy McVeigh, editor

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The human toll of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is enormous and growing. These diseases kill approximately 41 million of the 56 million people who die each year, and three quarters of them are in the developing world.

ENTs are just that; unlike, say, a virus, you can’t catch them. Instead, they are caused by a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental, and behavioral factors. The main types are cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases: heart attacks and strokes. Approximately 80% are preventable, and all are on the rise, spreading inexorably across the globe as aging populations and lifestyles fueled by economic growth and urbanization make poor health a global phenomenon. .

Once considered diseases of the rich, NCDs now affect the poor. Illness, disability, and death are perfectly designed to create and amplify inequality, and being poor makes you less likely to be accurately diagnosed or treated.

The investment to address these common and chronic conditions that kill 71% of us is staggeringly low, while the cost to families, economies, and communities is staggeringly high.

In low-income countries, NCDs, typically slow and debilitating diseases, are seeing a fraction of the money needed invested or donated. Attention remains focused on the threats of communicable diseases, but cancer death rates have long exceeded the number of deaths from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined.

‘A Common Condition’ is a new series from The Guardian that reports on NCDs in the developing world: their prevalence, solutions, causes and consequences, and tells the stories of people living with these diseases.

Tracy McVeigh, editor

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The country has one of the best in the world fastest growing populations, and UN projections suggest that it will be one of eight countries responsible for more than half of the increase in world population by 2050.

People are also living longer: life expectancy is 66 for men and 71 for women by 2025, and the UN expects the number of Tanzanians aged 60 and over to be more than double over the next three decades. Even with its current population, Tanzania is struggling to meet its health needs.

Older Tanzanians are disproportionately affected by NCDs, but almost 90% of people over the age of 50 do not have health insurance and have little access to medical services. The state health insurance plan can cost between £70 and £350 a year, and healthcare costs are prohibitive for many. Authorities estimate that more than three quarters of people do not visit hospitals until they are seriously ill.

Matau lives alone in the Kawe neighborhood of the capital. She is one of the few Tanzanians who can afford private medical care and visits a nearby clinic every few weeks. But Matau’s health insurance only covers a part of her medical expenses; her children help pay the rest.

“It is very difficult for them because they also have a family to take care of,” says Matau, sitting outside her house. She has had to change her diet because of her diabetes, which means spending more on food.

Elisaria Matau monitors her diabetes at home in Dar es Salaam
Elisaria Matau monitors her diabetes at home in Dar es Salaam Photo: Imani Nsamil/The Guardian

Victoria Matutu, 35, is bearing a double burden. diagnosed with Diabetes type 1 Two years ago, Matutu was spending around £35 a month on insulin and the same amount on clinic visits every two months. Her mother also has her condition, so Matutu has to help her with the medical bills. She earns the equivalent of £140 a month, which is not enough to pay for the government scheme. “We’ve really had to dig in our pockets,” she says.

Mary Mayige, coordinator of the National Survey of Noncommunicable Diseases, says that conditions that previously affected mainly older adults now affect people in their 30s who are “the engine of production for the country.”

Health care has always been thought of in terms of expense, he says. “It is about time that countries start to see the situation as a threat to the economy and the development of human capital.”

She wants the government to broaden its approach by making targeted investments and increasing social and economic incentives for healthier lifestyles.

Tanzania allocates Less than 5% of its GDP to health, which is below the international threshold for the provision of basic services. Donor funding contributes to approximately 60% of total public spendingbut Health programs that pays are heavily biased towards infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, despite the fact that data suggesting that infectious disease cases are declining, while NCDs are increasing and account for almost half of the country’s deaths.

The government’s healthcare strategy for 2021 to 2026 recognizes the need to increase its focus on NCDs. “The government will encourage preventive measures that address risk factors related to lifestyle and mental health, as well as environmental factors,” the strategy says. “Where necessary, laws and regulations will be implemented to reduce exposure to risk factors. There will be early detection of chronic diseases through the early detection and treatment of noncommunicable conditions of public health importance.”

“We need to reorient the health system to respond to the growing burden of NCDs,” says James Kiologwe, deputy director for NCDs at the Ministry of Health.

A universal health insurance plan will be launched next year, offering lower premiums to large families and providing specific support for the elderly or those with chronic illnesses. But NCD experts say much more needs to be done, or tailored solutions found, to address the country’s growing NCD burden.

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