Effects of war on chronic diseases An elderly woman is assisted to cross the Irpin River on an improvised path under a bridge that was destroyed by Ukrainian troops .

Costa Matyavira, Correspondent

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) explains that chronic diseases are conditions that last for one year or more and need continuous medical attention or a reduction in activities of daily living or both. According to the World Health Organisation, the main types include heart conditions, cancer, asthma and diabetes mellitus. Others include arthritis, epilepsy and mental disorders.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) kill people equivalent to 74 percent of all deaths globally.Management of Chronic Diseases According to the National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) there are measures to manage chronic illnesses. The measures help us to feel well and prevent complications.

Steps to follow include:

a) Taking medicine as prescribed by the doctor – this includes taking the right dose at the right time and in the right way.

b) Schedule regular checkups with your doctor – regular appointments are done to prevent risk of developing complications such as liver failure.

c) Monitor your health at home – for example, diabetic patients need to check blood glucose level regularly at home, so that they quickly report any deviations from normal to doctors. This is done to prevent complications and sudden death.

d) Regular exercise – they are done to control body weight and improve mental health. Regular exercise also help patients feel healthy and sleep better.

e) Eat healthy foods – these include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and milk products. High protein foods such as fish, poultry, eggs, beans and peas should be part of the diet. The diet should also have low added sugars, sodium and fats.

Other management techniques include use of support groups and meditation.


War is generally a state of conflict between different countries or different groups within a country. A lot of countries have passed through phases of conflicts. Such countries include Zimbabwe, Colombia, China and France, among others. War causes disabilities, injuries and deaths globally.

A report from the Relief Web published in 2024 states that at least 60 percent of Gaza’s housing units are reportedly destroyed or damaged, in addition to 352 educational and 20 water and sanitation facilities. Only 14 of 36 hospitals remain functional. There is also a critical shortage of medicine and medical supplies, putting more than a thousand at risk of kidney failure and leaving a lot of cancer patients without proper health care. Such type of incidents are common in countries engaged in conflicts.

An analysis of the situation in Gaza indicates that war affects all age groups globally including those with chronic conditions. However, a peaceful environment is needed for treatment of chronic diseases. Taking medication as prescribed by a specialist, scheduling checkups with the doctor, monitoring of your health at home and regular exercises need a timetable.

Timetables can only be set and become useful in a peaceful environment. There has to be a schedule to achieve the mentioned management techniques. Most people suffering from chronic conditions such as diabetes mellitus take drugs for life. The scarcity of medicine means such people’s lives are shortened. Health care workers are also killed or injured or vacate war zones. Arrangements of checkups with doctors are disrupted. War destroys infrastructure.

People suffering from chronic illnesses also need good shelter where there is proper ventilation. Asthmatic, diabetic and heart disease patients are easily affected by extreme heat or cold leading to complications such as heart failure followed by sudden deaths.

Healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables are recommended by dieticians on management of NCDs. These foods are produced on farms. War does not give farmers time to attend to their fields. A report published in 2024 by the World Food Programme of USA states that about 6,5 to 8,5 percent of Ukraine’s farmland was abandoned as a result of war.

fruits and vegetables

Fields are littered with landmines and machinery was destroyed. One in four small scale farmers is estimated to have scaled back or stopped farming due to the Ukraine and Russia war. Prior to war, Ukraine and Russia accounted for 30 percent of global wheat exports and 20 percent corn exports. Due to the conflict, exports were stopped and this caused a steep rise in the prices of food.

Scarcity of food around the world leads to malnutrition. According to Unicef, malnutrition is lack or excessive nutrient intake. People with chronic illnesses need a diet rich in proteins (including beans, poultry, eggs and peas) which are usually in short supply during conflicts, to maintain optimal body functions and prevent complications such as kidney failure.

Research shows that lack of proteins causes the body to break down its own tissues and shut down its functions. This shortens lifespans of people living with chronic illnesses. According to WHO, unhealthy diets and poor nutrition are also risk factors of other diet-related NCDs such as heart attacks and stroke, certain cancers and diabetes mellitus. War causes lack of dietary choices. Excess fats and carbohydrates in the diet can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor of diabetes mellitus and other NCDs.

Support Groups
Health-related support groups bring together people who are going through similar experiences. Advantages of joining support groups include;
a) Talking openly and honestly about your feelings.

b) Developing ways of coping with challenges

c) Adhering to treatment plans and gaining a sense of hope

d) Improving understanding of the condition

e) Getting treatment and feedback plans

f) Reducing stress, anxiety and isolation.

War causes forced migration and disrupts support groups. The WFP recently reported that after the first year of war in Ukraine, six million people displaced were within Ukraine and another eight million fled the country as refugees. In addition, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) stressed that 5,5 million people were displaced within DRC due to the conflict as of December 2022 and nearly 1,1 million have crossed borders to seek asylum.

This indicates that a lot of support groups vanish due to unplanned migration. People suffering from chronic illnesses need empowerment through families and support groups. Being isolated causes extra anxiety, stress and loss of hope. They fail to cope with added challenges and develop complications such as loss of hearing and liver damage leading to short lifespans.

War is also a risk factor of chronic mental disorders. Newport Institute explains that chronic mental conditions include anxiety disorders, mood disorders and psychotic disorders, which last more than three months.

WHO chief, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus once said, “Our vision is not health for some. It’s not health for most. It’s health for all: rich and poor; able and disabled; old and young, urban and rural, citizen and refugee. Everyone and everywhere.”Global conflicts are in contrast with our vision statement. If there is war, health is compromised.

Those suffering from chronic conditions have little or no access to health facilities during conflicts even if they are in refugee camps.UN Secretary General, Antonio Guteres said, “peace can achieve wonders that wars never will.”

If there is peace, everyone including patients with chronic illnesses, has an opportunity to fair medical treatment. All nations should pray for peace to prevail in every country. The UN should engage in peaceful resolutions to end wars globally.
l Costa Matyavira is a researcher and can be contacted on +263778949614.

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