Study Tour: Lessons Learned from the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

Last week, GHC Executive Director Christine Sow accompanied US Senate staffers to Uganda and Rwanda on a study tour organized by the Livestrong Foundation and Management Sciences for Health. We will be featuring blogs and pictures from Christine on the tour – read on to hear about the trip, NCDs, and global health challenges. Find part 1 and part 2 here. 

I come from a professional background focused squarely on reproductive and maternal health, child survival and HIV/AIDS. Most if not all of my career until now has been oriented towards saving young lives and the mothers who give birth and care for them.  Truth be told, I had never spent much time thinking about non-communicable disease control and management, except to acknowledge how far off we were from introducing anything resembling cancer screening or dialysis when there was no treatment available within the countries where I worked.

But today I am struck by the rapidly changing epidemiological profile of those same countries where I spent so much time on child survival. It’s true that the causes of child mortality continue to be a burden and still require high priority attention and resources. But at the same time, rapid urbanization and changing social norms and diet mean that NCDs are a growing threat to the economically-active segment of the population.

Uganda | Photo Credit Sally Canfield

Uganda | Photo Credit Sally Canfield

Here in Uganda, health authorities note that the rising prevalence of obesity, alcohol and tobacco use are contributing to a ballooning NCD problem, one that hits the most economically active segment of the population. Twenty-five percent of deaths in Uganda are currently attributed to NCDs and WHO estimated that deaths from NCDs in Africa will increase by 24% over the next decade. Worldwide, NCDs account for 29 million deaths annually, and of these, more than 9 million are “premature” deaths – meaning the deaths of people in the prime of their lives, who are wage-earners and caregivers. And of these, over 8 million deaths occur in low and middle income countries that have the least capacity to provide prevention, screening and management services to their rapidly growing populations.

When I reflect on where we are with regard to NCDs in 2014, I am reminded of the early years of the AIDS epidemic when we were just starting to address the economic impact of the disease, particularly in terms of what it meant as loss to GDP and corporate profits. While it’s still early, the same can be said of the growing burden of NCDs – premature mortality and morbidity due to these diseases also means the slowing of economic growth and the need for increased investment in the social safety net. Those lessons of the HIV epidemic present a rich reference point for consideration in tackling this next threat to global economic, social, and physical health and well-being. 

Stay tuned for part 4/4 tomorrow.