Blogpost: As cigarettes become more affordable, the number of Zambian smokers increases
May 7, 2018
The WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub on taxation adopts a statement on the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World
May 14, 2018

By Vanessa Darsamo

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a significant and growing problem in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where the largest relative increase in NCD-attributable deaths is expected to occur in the next decade (Marquez and Farrington, 2013).

Rapid urbanization is often accompanied by decreasing levels of physical activity, accompanied by increased consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Climate change, and the nutrition transition towards unhealthy and unsustainable patterns of food production and consumption, have led to micro- and-macronutrient deficiencies, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other behavioural-related NCDs (B-RNCDs) in the region (Marquez and Farrington, 2013).

NCDs already account for a third of all deaths in some SSA countries, and it is expected that by 2030, NCDs will be the leading cause of death in the region (Marquez and Farrington, 2013). Apart from the human tragedy, these premature deaths reduce productivity and drive resources away from other pressing social and economic needs.

There is little research on B-RNCDs in SSA compared to high-income countries, because of data constraints in SSA (Dalal et al., 2011).  We need to identify data sources, and enable access to them to support evidence-based research on the effects of consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and unhealthy foods. Such research could motivate politicians to implement fiscal interventions to limit consumption of these products, and control the production of unhealthy food products.

Tobacco and alcohol have been taxed for many decades in most countries. While in some countries the rationale for such taxes is to raise government revenues. In recent years the public health rationale has become increasingly important. Recently, the introduction of a sugar tax in several jurisdictions outside SSA as a public health measure also generated much needed government revenue.

The key action for African governments presently is to implement or monitor alcohol, FEH and tobacco control policies, including taxation and subsidies to address B-RNCDs (World Cancer Research Fund International, 2014, World Health Organization, 2016). Where data are available they can feed into research on taxes, price policies, supply side issues, the relationship between public policies and poverty, among other topics.

Alcohol, tobacco and FEH data from SSA are sometimes available through commercial “data brokers”. Such data cannot be shared with third parties and it is difficult to confirm their quality since they cannot be scrutinised by the wider academic community.

The existing Data on Alcohol and Tobacco (DATA) Project, funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), has demonstrated that there is significant infrastructure at the University of Cape Town for the collection and discovery of relevant data and related policy indicators. Numerous highly relevant data already exist (The Economics of Tobacco Control Project, 2017). Surveys such as the Demographic and Health Survey and Income and Expenditure surveys already capture data on consumption of alcohol, food and tobacco. The current DATA Project, through DataFirst, has made discovery of and easy access to over 90 datasets containing alcohol and tobacco data. The DATA Project is happy to announce that it is including FEH data to its data dissemination efforts and changing its name to the Data on Aliments, Tobacco and Alcohol (DATA) in Africa Project.

The extended DATA in Africa Project has expanded its focus to 10 SSA countries, including the 5 pilot countries: Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa from the previous 2 years. We aim to address country-specific data needs within the context of the Economics of NCDs and FEH. We will expand our collaboration with data producers to make existing datasets open. We will also source and collate data that are locked-away in hard copies or PDF documents, and disseminate these in research-ready formats. We will continue to promote data discovery by describing and linking to data on other platforms for as many SSA countries as possible. This will include data on countries other than our focus countries if they have relevant data. However, our collection, collation and publishing efforts will be primarily aimed at the 10 project countries.

We will be updating the already disseminated datasets to include more recent data and notify all our users of these updates. By disseminating FEH data to promote research and policies, the DATA in Africa Project will provide the evidence to promote health and longevity across SSA populations.

Weencourage researchers to make use of the DATA in Africa  Project’s site. We need researchers to use these datasets so as to enhance the quality of these data, through their feedback.