NCDs: A Burden We All Need Help to Bear

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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How To Reduce Cervical Cancer Cases Among Girls

 

An official from TNCDA addresses secondary school students during a breast cancer awareness exercise in Tanzania

Cervical Cancer is a painful, dangerous and deadly Non-Communicable Disease (NCD). Cervical cancer is the second-highest cause of mortality in women worldwide, affecting women aged 15 – 44 years (MAYO Clinic, 2021). Kenya reported approximately 5,236 newly diagnosed cervical cancer cases in 2020.

However, all hope is not lost. This frightening situation can be reversed with many lives saved and re-occurrence avoided if stakeholders including parents, medical experts, Governments, Civil Society Organisations and communities focus on prevention strategies.

True to the adage that prevention is better than cure, it is evident from research that NCDs such as cervical and liver cancers are preventable through vaccination. It has been proven through studies that the high incidence and mortality due to cervical cancer can be reversed if girls and boys are vaccinated before their exposure to sexual activities. Studies highlight that the HPV vaccine provides a chance to reduce cervical cancer amongst 90% of women vaccinated at a younger age.

It is against this background that the HPV Vaccine Campaign was rolled out in October 2019, backed by the GAVI Alliance and World Health Organisation (WHO), with the goal of immunizing 800,000 pre-adolescent girls aged 10 -12 years every year, free of charge. To save more lives, the HPV Vaccine Campaign was re-launched in 2021, at population level, making it available to all girls between 10–14 years (Ngune et al., 2020).

Vaccines to the rescue

To deepen the cervical cancer prevention strategies, the Non-Communicable Disease Alliance Kenya and Uganda Non Communicable Diseases Alliance through support from MSD, conducted a week-long sensitisation and awareness campaign on vaccination of young girls from 13th – 19th September 2021.

The campaign themed, ‘Prevent Now for the Future,’ leveraged on equipping journalists with knowledge on prevention of NCDs that they could share with the public through various media reporting.

In addition, a pool of experts and stakeholders including persons with lived experience were drawn to share insights and facts on the status of cervical cancer control in countries, progress of vaccination and to dispel all myths surrounding the vaccine.

Besides running social media campaigns to reach out to the general population, the alliances engaged with journalists through media roundtable discussions to empower them with information and to get their perspective on cervical cancer prevention. The two-hour online discussion culminated into calls to action specific to Governments, journalists, Civil Society Organisations, and the general population.

The media roundtable discussions led to clear calls to action for communities and all stakeholders. It was evident that the communities needed to prioritise the vaccination of young girls as a strategy for preventing occurrence of over 90% of cervical cancer cases in their generation. The communities were called upon to adopt the HPV vaccine and to take all eligible girls for vaccination.

In the same vein, civil society organisations were tasked to respond to the needs of persons living with Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) by empowering them with knowledge to hold Governments accountable for cervical cancer prevention and control.

Governments were urged to take actions to improve the outcome of survivorship and to strictly implement the policies and strategies for management of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

In addition, the provision of uninterrupted access to healthcare services was considered as vital to cancer prevention and management.

References

  1. WHO. 2020. How Do Vaccines Work?
  2. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination: What everyone should know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed May 20, 2021.
  3. Ngune I, Kalembo F, Loessl B, Kivuti-Bitok LW (2020) Biopsychosocial risk factors and knowledge of cervical cancer among young women: A case study from Kenya to inform HPV prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa. PLoS ONE 15(8): e0237745.

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