Non-Communicable Diseases Epidemic
Kelvin Mokaya, Youth Advocate.
A number of factors, including rapid urbanization, globalization, and aging of the population all contribute to the growing NCD burden in Kenya, but many NCDs are largely preventable by changing unhealthy behaviors. The four major NCDs (cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic lung diseases, and diabetes) share four key risk behaviors: tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet. These are all behaviors that are typically initiated or solidified during adolescence or young adulthood and set the stage for NCDs later in life.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 70% of premature deaths in adults worldwide are as a result of behaviors that begin in adolescence. While these risk behaviors are still relatively low among youths in Kenya as compared to youths in other regions, their prevalence is increasing.
Therefore, a window of opportunity exists for the Ministry of Health now to address the four key risk behaviors in its large and ever-growing youth population to reduce the NCD burden in the coming decades. Scaling up proven, cost-effective interventions that discourage unhealthy behaviors and promote healthy ones can significantly shift the course of the costly NCD epidemic in the near future. Doing so now will also help Kenya meet some of the Sustainable Development Goals and improve the chances of achieving greater economic growth and development.