Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a group of diseases with long durations and generally slow progression. NCDs cannot be passed from one person to another. They are caused by a combination of genetic factors (probably less than 3%) and environmental exposures throughout life (even before we are born).

NCDs include four major groups: cardiovascular diseases, non-hereditary cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes. A fifth group, mental health and neurological conditions are also very important, according to the University of Auckland.

While NCDs cause the majority of deaths worldwide (63%) their impact is most significant in low and middle-income countries and communities in high-income countries that are least resourced. In these communities, NCDs occur earlier in life and have a greater impact on quality of life, the ability to earn an income, support a family, and nurture the next generations.

The burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the WHO African Region is gradually increasing and is predicted to overtake the burden of mortality and morbidity from communicable diseases by the year 2030(GBD 2015 Risk Factors Collaborators). The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that globally, deaths from NCDs will reach 44 million by 2020, representing an increase of 15% from the 2010 estimate. WHO estimates that about 4 million NCD-related deaths will occur in the African Region by 2020.

The leading NCDs of this Region are cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus type 2, chronic obstructive lung disease, and cancer. The four key risk factors for these NCDs are tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. The four intermediate-risk factors are: obesity, high blood pressure, raised blood sugar and high cholesterol.

Avoidable and unjust health inequities driven by lack of access to good nutrition, time and opportunities for physical activity, education, employment and secure housing drive this difference between the impact of NCDs in rich and poor communities

One of the key global objectives for combatting NCDs is to promote effective interventions to prevent and control these risk factors for NCDs. To this end, WHO adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a strategy for the reduction of harmful use of alcohol, and the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (DPAS).