Uganda battles rising cases of Dementia despite heavy funding constraints

UGANDA – A prevalence study conducted in Uganda ha shown that one in five people in Uganda aged 60 and above, has Alzheimer’s disease or related forms of dementia, raising alarm in the country.

The findings of this study support World Health Organisation’s latest data, which shows that two-thirds of people with dementia worldwide live in low and middle-income countries.

Alzheimer’s is a disorder that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die, slowly destroying memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out activities of daily life; it is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to 60 to 70 percent of cases.

According to the WHO Global Status Report on the Public Health Response to Dementia 2021, there are 55 million people with dementia worldwide.

This figure is projected to increase to 78 million by 2030 and 139 million by 2050, by which time an estimated 71 percent of new cases will be in the low and middle-income countries where all East African countries fall.

In the case of Uganda, experts say Alzheimer’s and dementia-related illnesses have remained in the bracket of neglected diseases in the East African country, partly due to funding.

During a national symposium on quality mental healthcare in Uganda in 2019, experts said the government allocated 9.8 percent of its gross domestic product to the sector, or $146 annually per person. The experts added that less than one percent of this budget goes into mental healthcare, compared with 10 percent for many other countries.

The rising cases amidst dwindling funding have seen resort to private measures to address the prevalence, care and support to victims.

On September 25, non-profit Uganda Alzheimer’s Association held the first-ever memory walk in the country, in support of Alzheimer’s victims, and in recognition of the rising cases and a need for a national dementia strategy that will address data gaps, diagnosis and care for patients.

The disease, which remains among the top 10 killer diseases globally, according to a WHO 2019 study, claims about two million lives annually.

The WHO study also revealed that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are ranked seventh leading cause of death, adding that women are disproportionately affected.

In the East African Community, Rwanda ranks poorest, with a death rate of 28.26 per 100,000 people, the WHO says.

Uganda and Tanzania lose 26.65 and 26.52 people per 100,000 persons respectively, while South Sudan is at 22.52 persons and Burundi at 23.21 deaths.

Kenya is best ranked, with the lowest death rate of 19.65 per 100,000 people, WHO data for 2018 shows.

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