Why NCDs are on the rise among elderly in Tanzania

Friday May 31 2019

At least 88 per cent of people aged 50 and over

At least 88 per cent of people aged 50 and over in Tanzania are still without health insurance or any form of health. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

BOB KARASHANI
By BOB KARASHANI
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The spread of non-communicable diseases in Tanzania has almost doubled over the past three decades.

Already, by 2016 such diseases were estimated to account for just over one-third of all deaths in the country, according to a new report on universal health coverage in Tanzania.

The report published by HelpAge International suggests that while most of Tanzania’s health facilities deal with cases of NCDs like cancer and diabetes, only 10 per cent of the healthcare personnel there have sufficient training in diagnosing and managing such diseases.

It says the share of such diseases went up from 19 per cent of total disability-adjusted life years in 1990 to 34 per cent in 2015.

The study, conducted by HelpAge International and AARP in collaboration with researchers from the National Institute for Medical Research in Tanzania, focused on the extent to which older people are included in efforts to promote universal health care.

Official statistics show that the impact of NCDs in the country is higher among people aged 50 and above, who tend to experience the most formidable economic and other barriers in getting access to good quality healthcare services.

“In the same way that the benefits of overall economic growth in Tanzania have not been spread evenly across age groups, health status and access to healthcare have also been unevenly distributed,” the report says.

The findings show that at least 88 per cent of people aged 50 and over in Tanzania are still without health insurance or any form of health protection.

Tanzania has yet to pass binding legislation for every citizen in the country to have mandatory health insurance cover, although the idea has been mooted for years. A draft Bill is ready but still waiting to be presented to parliament, officials say.

According to Health minister Ummy Mwalimu, the proposed new law will pave the way for the provision of free health insurance cards to elderly citizens, giving them access to quality treatment services at any public or private health facility within the country.

Records at the African Medical and Research Foundation country office in Dar es Salaam show that by July last year, only 32 per cent of Tanzania’s 55 million people were covered under robust health insurance schemes.

This effectively reduced out-of-pocket health financing, against the government’s own stated target of getting at least 50 per cent of Tanzanians into such schemes by 2020.