HEALTH

HARRISON ANDEKO: Kenyans cannot carry the cross of NCDs

Despite making significant progress in increasing awareness and knowledge of NCDs, they are yet to be accorded the priority they deserve

In Summary

• The misguided belief that non-communicable diseases are for the rich or the old is slowly fading away.

• We have all witnessed the case of a child or young person with either cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, or other non-communicable diseases.

NCDs activist John Gikonyo, Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi, diabetes expert Eva Njenga, health promotion director Andrew Mulwa, PATH Kenya director Caroline Njuguna and Head of department NCDs Ephantus Maree during the launch of National strategic plan for for the prevention of Control of non-communicable disease 2021/22-2025/26 in Nairobi on July 27, 2021.
NCDs activist John Gikonyo, Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi, diabetes expert Eva Njenga, health promotion director Andrew Mulwa, PATH Kenya director Caroline Njuguna and Head of department NCDs Ephantus Maree during the launch of National strategic plan for for the prevention of Control of non-communicable disease 2021/22-2025/26 in Nairobi on July 27, 2021.
Image: MERCY MUMO

Dread them, run from them, non-communicable diseases arrive all the same. Shocking as this sounds, it is the reality that we face.

Part of the reasons why we have always thought NCDs are for the old people is because like destiny, they arrived in the lives of our grandparents and parents, and we are the ones who carried the burden of treatment and care.

Everyone who has experienced this agrees it is one of the heaviest burdens to carry. If I was not religious, I could have likened it to the burden of the cross that was carried by Jesus. In my own understanding, it is a burden we can run away from, if our governments prioritise prevention management and care and include persons living with NCDs in decision-making processes.

The misguided belief that NCDs are for the rich or the old is slowly fading away. We have all witnessed the case of a child or young person with either cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, or other non-communicable diseases.

Earlier, living with these conditions one was considered as cursed or bewitched. However, with continuous education and sensitisation, we have come to the realisation that these are conditions that require medical intervention for prevention, treatment and management. We have witnessed people living with NCDs living longer through adherence to treatment and management protocols.

Despite making significant progress in increasing awareness and knowledge of NCDs, they are yet to be accorded the priority they deserve, especially in the government plans and budget. NCDs are slow pandemics that do not always illicit urgent action as was witnessed in the response to Covid-19 and Ebola.

Therefore, while many have continued to suffer, resource allocation by governments and stakeholders to NCDs remains low. We have seen counties develop Covid-19 response centres yet the majority of facilities do not have even space for NCDs clinic.

Alarmingly NCDs are the second leading cause of death in Kenya. According to World Health Organization’s statistics, about 4,757 people died of Covid-19 in Kenya between January 3, 2021 and September 5, 2021 compared to the over 22,000 people who die of cancer every year.

Imagine if we were to include figures for other NCDs. Should more resources not have been allocated to NCDs? Well, the fun fact is that NCDs are a slow pandemic that impact all facets of society.

Kenya, like many other developing countries, is undergoing an epidemiological transition—from infectious diseases to NCDs.

According to the Ministry of Health, the leading NCD contributors to the all-cause deaths in Kenya are cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Although, in Kenya, diabetes caused a lower proportion of deaths, it is becoming increasingly important because its prevalence is fast growing.

In Kenya, NCDs contribute to over 50 per cent of inpatient admissions and 40 per cent of hospital deaths. They thus consume a substantial proportion of the healthcare budget taking away funds from other development needs.

The 2013 out-of-pocket health expenditure in Kenya was about 45 per cent of the total expenditure on health. Because of high levels of poverty, high income disparity, and a high total dependency ratio, the burden of paying for health care is especially heavy on a large portion of the population and many in Kenya cannot afford to pay for healthcare.

We only have one way of escape and that is to prepare by prioritising and allocating more resources to these conditions. When we prioritise 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.

The writer is an NCDs advocate and a programmes officer