Non-communicable diseases in sub-Saharan Africa: what we know now

Int J Epidemiol. 2011 Aug;40(4):885-901. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyr050. Epub 2011 Apr 28.


Background: Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has a disproportionate burden of both infectious and chronic diseases compared with other world regions. Current disease estimates for SSA are based on sparse data, but projections indicate increases in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) caused by demographic and epidemiologic transitions. We review the literature on NCDs in SSA and summarize data from the World Health Organization and International Agency for Research on Cancer on the prevalence and incidence of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus Type 2, cancer and their risk factors.

Methods: We searched the PubMed database for studies on each condition, and included those that were community based, conducted in any SSA country and reported on disease or risk factor prevalence, incidence or mortality.

Results: We found few community-based studies and some countries (such as South Africa) were over-represented. The prevalence of NCDs and risk factors varied considerably between countries, urban/rural location and other sub-populations. The prevalence of stroke ranged from 0.07 to 0.3%, diabetes mellitus from 0 to 16%, hypertension from 6 to 48%, obesity from 0.4 to 43% and current smoking from 0.4 to 71%. Hypertension prevalence was consistently similar among men and women, whereas women were more frequently obese and men were more frequently current smokers.

Conclusions: The prevalence of NCDs and their risk factors is high in some SSA settings. With the lack of vital statistics systems, epidemiologic studies with a variety of designs (cross-sectional, longitudinal and interventional) capable of in-depth analyses of risk factors could provide a better understanding of NCDs in SSA, and inform health-care policy to mitigate the oncoming NCD epidemic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors