Escalating battle of non-communicable diseases in Kenya

According to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018, an alarming 39% of deaths in the country are attributed to non-communicable diseases
The Escalating Battle: Non-Communicable Diseases in Kenya
Non-Communicable Diseases in Kenya.

The escalating battle against non-communicable diseases in Kenya has become a pressing issue in recent years. According to a report by the World Health Organisation in 2018, an alarming 39% of deaths in the country are attributed to non-communicable diseases.

This statistic is even more disheartening when considering the global impact of these diseases, with WHO estimating that non-communicable diseases are responsible for a staggering 74% of all deaths worldwide.

To understand the gravity of this issue, it is important to first define what non-communicable diseases are. These diseases, also known as chronic diseases, are not spread through infection and typically have long durations. They are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental, and behavioural factors. Common non-communicable diseases include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.

Addressing this significant public health challenge requires a shift in perspective. Rashid Khalani, the CEO of Aga Khan University Hospital, emphasised the need for Kenya to adopt a preventive approach to care rather than relying solely on a curative approach. This change in mindset is crucial in effectively managing non-communicable diseases in the country.

Prevention should be at the forefront of efforts to combat non-communicable diseases. This includes educating the public about the risk factors associated with these diseases and promoting healthy behaviours. Lifestyle modifications, such as adopting a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, can significantly reduce the risk of developing non-communicable diseases.

In addition to prevention, early detection and timely treatment are vital components in the battle against non-communicable diseases. Regular health screenings and check-ups play a crucial role in identifying risk factors and detecting the presence of these diseases at an earlier stage. Accessible and affordable healthcare services are essential in ensuring that individuals receive the necessary treatment and support.

However, addressing non-communicable diseases requires a comprehensive and multi-sectoral approach. It is not solely the responsibility of the healthcare sector but extends to other sectors such as education, urban planning, agriculture, and food production. Collaborative efforts between these sectors are necessary to create a supportive environment that promotes healthy living and mitigates the risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases.

For a healthier Kenya, identifying diseases early through regular check-ups is crucial. Late diagnosis of diseases not only leads to prolonged and expensive treatment but also puts immense pressure on individuals, families, and the healthcare system. This was emphasised by Mr. Khalani, the CEO of Aga Khan University Hospital.

In an effort to shed light on the importance of early disease detection, the hospital conducted a random screening of 1200 individuals who were accompanying patients to the hospital. The results were alarming, to say the least. Surprisingly, 28% of these individuals had abnormal blood pressure, despite not being sick themselves. Additionally, a staggering 70% had an abnormal Body Mass Index (BMI).

This data serves as a wake-up call, highlighting the urgent need for regular check-ups and proactive healthcare measures. By identifying diseases early on, individuals can seek timely treatment, which is generally more effective and less burdensome than treating advanced-stage illnesses. Early diagnosis also allows for the implementation of preventative measures to avoid further complications.

As the CEO of Aga Khan University Hospital, Mr. Khalani understands the challenges faced in promoting early disease detection. He took the reins at the hospital in March 2021, amidst the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the difficulties, he finds the journey both challenging and rewarding.

Mr. Khalani emphasises that Aga Khan University Hospital goes beyond merely treating patients. It also plays a critical role in training nurses and doctors for the future. This focus on education ensures the sustainability of healthcare in Kenya by equipping medical professionals with the skills and knowledge necessary to provide quality care.

The hospital serves as the teaching centre for Aga Khan University’s Medical College, offering residency programs and various fellowship programs in specialised fields such as cardiology, oncology, neurology, infectious diseases, haematology, and nuclear medicine. Additionally, starting this September, the university will launch an undergraduate medical degree program, further expanding the country’s capacity to produce competent and qualified healthcare professionals.

Early disease detection is a crucial component of healthcare, and it requires a comprehensive approach from both individuals and the healthcare system. Regular check-ups, screenings, and health education play a crucial role in identifying diseases at their earliest stages. This timely intervention not only reduces the burden on individuals and families but also alleviates strain on the healthcare system.

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