If non-communicable diseases or NCD is associated with the wealthy, we are fast becoming a wealthy society. But this is no reason to feel happy. It is just a bad joke.

The reality is the high cost of treatment in a poor country. An alarming rate, 53 percent of deaths in the country is attributed to NCDs – cancer, heart diseases, diabetics and respiratory diseases have surpassed infectious diseases and is becoming the biggest challenge. And this is happening as sensitization and awareness programmes are conducted at various level and forums. Not to mention a growing educated population who are supposed to be more health conscious.

Now officially recognized as the biggest health challenge, it would call for more attention. The health ministry has kick started an action plan to tackle NCDs. The plan targets both cause and effect and has several targets to be met, both national and international.

We have realised a little bit too late in tackling this serious problem. This is because we have had the opportunity to see the devastation that the changing lifestyles and bad diets have caused everywhere. We have taken the same path. But it is better to be late then never. Our kidu-based health system will bear all the cost, but funds that could have improved national health is spent on treating what could have been prevented.

There are targets to be met with deadlines, but more than achieving the target, it is the health of the people and the health system that should motivate to put a brake to this ailing problem. And it is not wise to leave it alone to the health ministry.

The approach is right because it is the cause that we should treat and not the symptoms. Setting up open-air gyms all over the country will help only to an extent. Good legislations and change of attitude will help going by causes of the NCDs. To repeat it again, we have long recognized alcohol as a problem, indeed the biggest problem, but we have still not agreed on the need for a legislation to control both production and sale.

We have the highest prevalence of tobacco users among students. This is in spite of having strict tobacco regulations indicating that implementation has failed. A good beginning is to understand the problem. We know our problem and are looking for solutions.

Physical exercise is the cheapest alternative to prevent lifestyle diseases. The ministry is encouraging it. Open-air gyms are set up around the city and it will soon expand to other towns. Bike trails are built too, but we don’t have enough facilities that cater to the young. The referral cost of one patient could easily build a basketball court. A few more could build a football ground. There are not many around the city and the good ones are beyond the means of many.

Beyond the policy level, it is up to individual citizens to contribute in making ours a healthy society. There is no dearth of advice; the problem is we wait until it is too late.