There is no doubt that communicable diseases will remain the predominant health problem for the populations in sub-Saharan Africa, including adults, for the next 10-20 years. Concern has been expressed that the available resources to deal with this problem would be reduced by increasing the emphasis on noncommunicable diseases. The latter, however, already present a substantial burden because their overall age-specific rates are currently higher in adults in sub-Saharan Africa than in populations in Established Market Economies. There is also evidence that the prevalence of certain noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, is increasing rapidly, particularly in the urban areas, and that significant demands are being made on the health services by patients with these diseases. To ignore the noncommunicable diseases would inevitably lead to an increase in their burden; the provision of health services for them would be largely undirected by issues of clinical and cost effectiveness, and their treatment and prevention would be left to the mercy of local and global commercial interests. Improved surveillance of all diseases within sub-Saharan Africa is needed in order to place noncommunicable diseases properly within the context of the overall burden of disease. Research is needed to guide improvements in the clinical and cost effectiveness of resources currently committed to the care of patients with noncommunicable diseases, and to direct and evaluate preventive measures.