Dread them, run from them, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a slow pandemic that impacts all facets of society.

NCDs such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pretension, heart diseases among others still attack, inflict pain and claim the lives of our loved ones.  It is so challenging in that even if you think you will not suffer from NCDs, some of your relatives or friends could.

Recent projections from the Global Burden of Disease study suggested that by the year 2020, the proportion of the overall burden in sub-Saharan Africa due to NCDs would increase to somewhere between 26% – 34%, and among adults aged 15-59 years to between 37% – 42%.

All this projected increase is due to demographic changes leading to older populations. However, for some conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, age-specific rates are likely to increase with urbanization and attendant changes in health-related behaviors.

NCDs are the second-leading cause of death in Kenya. According to World Health Organisation(WHO) statistics, about 4,757 people died of COVID-19 in Kenya between 3rd January, 2021 and 5th September, 2021. Compare that to the over 22,000 people who die of cancer every year. Just imagine the number of deaths if we were to include figures for the other NCDs. Shouldn’t more resources be allocated to NCDs?

Shocking as this sounds, it is the probable reality that we face. Most of us in Africa have always thought that NCDs attack old people because our grandparents and parents suffer from NCDs, and we are the ones who carry the burden of treatment and care.  Anyone who has experienced this would agree that it is one of the heaviest burdens to carry. If I were not religious, I could have likened it to the burden of the Cross that was carried by Jesus.

I am full of hope and faith that it is a burden we can run away from if our Governments prioritize prevention management and care for NCDs and include persons living with NCDs in decision-making processes.

Thanks to the ongoing sensitization drives by East Africa NCD Alliance, its partners, and medical workers, the misguided belief that NCDs are for the rich or the old is slowly fading away from our society. I know we have all witnessed the case of a child or young person with either cancer, high blood pretension, diabetes, or heart disease. Earlier, a person suffering from non-communicable diseases such as Epilepsy was considered cursed or bewitched.

However, with continuous education and sensitization, we have come to the realization that these are health conditions that require medical intervention for prevention, treatment, and management. We have witnessed people with NCDs living longer through adherence to treatment and management protocols.

Priority attention needed

Despite making significant progress in increasing awareness and knowledge of NCDs, Governments are yet to accord NCDs the priority they deserve. It is unfortunate that NCDs are slow pandemics that do not always elicit urgent action as was witnessed in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and Ebola. Therefore, while many people have continued to suffer, resource allocation by Governments and stakeholders to NCDs remains low.

We have seen countries develop COVID-19 response centers, yet many hospitals and health facilities do not have even space for NCDs clinics.

We only have one way of escape and that is to prepare by prioritizing and allocating more resources to NCDs. We have a duty to advocate the allocation of more resources to NCDs. We should rise up and task Governments to prioritize NCDs in national plans and budgets.

When we prioritize educating our communities, support prevention, and early detection as well as access to affordable and acceptable quality treatment and care, including palliative and rehabilitative care, only then can we rout out NCDs and make living with them bearable.

(This article, written by Harrison Andekowas first published by The Star (https://www.the-star.co.ke/opinion/2021-09-20-harrison-andeko-kenyans-cannot-carry-the-cross-of-ncds/)

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