The Aga Khan University 17th National Health Sciences Research Symposium got under way today. Local and international experts have gathered at the AKU Stadium Road campus for the two-day event to discuss how best to tackle the growing menace of Noncommunicable Diseases.
Current evidence indicates that four types of NCDs, diseases which cannot be passed from person to person; i.e. cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes account for almost two-thirds of all deaths globally, with 80 per cent of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries.
Highlighting the health care implications of NCDs for Pakistan, Dr Mohammad Wasay, Professor, Department of Medicine, AKU said that 70 per cent of the deaths in the country were due to NCDs which was substantially greater than the deaths caused by infectious diseases.
In fact the two most common causes for disability in the country are stroke and trauma/injuries. Speaking from an emergency medicine perspective, Dr Junaid Razzak, Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, AKU said that injuries were the most common reason for people between the ages of 15 and 45 to go to an emergency department; he further revealed that road traffic accidents accounted for nearly 30,000 visits to emergency departments in Karachi alone.
Dr Jeyaraj Pandian of the World Stroke Organisation, India pointed out that between 1990 and 2010 the incidence of stroke in middle income countries had increased by 12 per cent and cited health and demographic transition, a sedentary lifestyle, rise in obesity and a rise in hypertension and diabetes as primary causes. Dr Pandian further added that in Pakistan there were 350,000 new cases of stroke annually.
“Stroke specific fatalities, according to various studies range between 7 and 20 per cent in Pakistan,” pointed out Dr Wasay, citing ignorance to the condition as one of the major risk factors. “Thirty-three per cent of the Pakistani population above the age of 45 is suffering from hypertension, while the number of diabetics in the country is estimated to grow to 13.9 million by 2020; both are risk factors for stroke but unfortunately most people are not aware.”
Lifestyle modifications were put forth as a possible long term strategy to combatting NCDs with Dr Rozina Karmaliani, Associate Professor, AKU School of Nursing and Midwifery pointing out that according to the World Health Organization 80 per cent of diabetes and heart disease, 40 per cent of cancers could be prevented with simple lifestyle modifications such as a healthy diet, exercise and avoiding tobacco. Women, added Dr Karamaliani, could be a powerful force in dealing with the NCD crises, as improving the health of women had a positive ripple effect on family, community and the next generation.
Other topics to be discussed during the two-day Symposium include tobacco cessation, mental health, sexual health, disaster management, heart diseases, nutrition, kidney diseases, women and child health, chronic respiratory diseases and the economic burden of NCDs.
In order to spread awareness about NCDs a Public Awareness Session was conducted by Dr Abdul Gaffar Billoo, a day prior to the Symposium. Topics that were discussed included diabetes, hypertension and tobacco and smoking/substance abuse.