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Hypertension is number one killer of Africans – Dr Mutale

By Christabel Oboshie ANNAN, Accra

A Professor of Public Health at the University of Zambia, Dr Wilbroad Mutale, has stated that there is a need to raise awareness about non-communicable diseases (NCDs), particularly hypertension, in Africa since it is one of the major health burdens.

According to him, hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is the worst killer of Africans compared to the famous human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

By raising awareness of NCDs, he said, Africans will become more cautious, pay attention to their blood pressure levels, and frequently visit the hospital for checkups in order to receive early treatment.

A non-communicable disease (NCD) is a disease that is not transmissible directly from one person to another.

These diseases include hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune diseases, strokes, most heart diseases, most cancers, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, and others.

Dr Wilbroad Mutale revealed this ahead of this year’s Africa Centre for Disease Control’s annual International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA), which is scheduled for November 27–30, 2023, in Lusaka, Zambia.

He noted that it is for this reason that the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the African Union, in partnership with the Zambia Ministry of Health, will leverage the International Conference on Public Health in Africa to increase awareness on hypertension and other NCD-related topics.

The conference will focus on nine tracks, which will be discussed for recommendations and further actions. These tracks are:

Epidemiology, Diagnostics, and Clinical Management of Emerging and Re-Emerging High-Consequence Infectious Diseases (HCID) in Africa.

Increasing Local Production in Africa: Advocacy, Research, and Development Capacity in Diagnostics, Therapeutics, and Vaccine Manufacturing.

Strengthening Health Systems for Equitable and Universal Health Coverage in Africa.

Women in Health: From Recipients to Providers to Leaders.

Safeguarding Africa’s Health Security: health emergencies, biosecurity, climate change, and multi-sectoral response mechanisms.

Digital Innovations in Health: Delivering Universal, Affordable, Connected, and Resilient Health Systems.

Whole-of-society: the Power of Engaging Civil Society, Philanthropy, Community Actors, and the Private Sector.

A renewed focus on Africa’s major infectious diseases: HIV, TB, malaria, NTDs, and;

Non-Communicable Diseases: A Growing Public Health Threat in Africa.

He advised that in addition to raising awareness, the burden of hypertension can also be reduced by ensuring that everyone, especially those who have such chronic conditions, has access to health care.

He added that, as part of raising awareness, it is essential that medical practitioners educate patients with such chronic conditions to continually take their medication and not halt their medication when they feel they are getting better.

“Many patients start taking medication for a day and then discontinue, which leads to complications. Since these are chronic diseases, I am aware that some people are ignorant, but doctors need to educate patients so that their medical treatment is consistent”, he explained.

The professor, who doubles as the co-chair of the CPHIA 2023 Track on ‘Unmasking the Silent Epidemics of NCDs, Mental Health, and Injuries, indicated that there’s also a need to look at the amount of salt put in food by Africans since it is an important intervention.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) commends that if we are able to control the amount of salt in our foods, we will be able to control the rate of hypertension,” he stressed.

Dr Mutale further added that, in addition to environmental issues, genetic factors can potentially contribute to the rising incidence of NCDs in Africa.

Socio-Economic Impact of NCDs

When discussing the socioeconomic effects of NCDs, the professor made the point that these diseases deprive the continent of professionals and educated people who can contribute to socioeconomic and national development.

“As a continent, we tend to lose productive citizens and experts. At an individual level, we lose competencies that we cannot acquire, such as doctors, nurses, lawyers, and engineers, among others, to stroke. And these are the economically active groups.

These people also have families and when we lose them, it becomes a big problem for the remaining children, families, wives, and other relatives who depend on them,” he explained.

Impact on vulnerable people

Regarding the vulnerable population, he mentioned that they become more vulnerable, especially when they lose people who died as a result of NCDs. In particular, individuals who are dependent on affluent relatives cannot be cared for if they are not present.

In addition, he noted that those who are vulnerable are also susceptible to these illnesses, may occasionally experience complications, and may incur catastrophic medical costs.

“They may also incur significant financial loss while seeking medical attention, particularly if they lack insurance,” he stressed.

The government’s response to NCDs

He recommended that governments in Africa can improve their response to NCDs by identifying them as key developmental issues and commit budgets to them.

“They can also invest in their workforce, such as health workers, by retraining them on NCDs,” he suggested.

He pointed out that because NCDs necessitate continual evaluations and information that is stored for a long time, the health system must be reorganized to allow for access to chronic care.

“We need a good system for keeping track of records and a mechanism to follow individuals over time, and invest in chronic care modules that can assist in addressing NCD-related difficulties,” he advised.

In terms of infrastructure, he said that governments can build roads that allow people to walk to work instead of driving, and at the municipal level, the government can also construct bicycle lanes for travel and exercise.

Cultural and social factors that influence NCDs

He pointed out that the majority of Africans do not like to talk about illness or death, and as a result, these cultural norms discourage people from getting frequent checks.

He noted that, even when someone passes away, no one likes to discuss what caused their death, yet doing so will help spread knowledge of these illnesses and their preventative measures.

On the subject of traditional medical healers and their impact on NCDs, he claimed that most traditional healers lack the knowledge necessary to treat NCDs. As a result, he recommended that traditional healers inform patients immediately, and refer them for orthodox treatment.

He stated that religion also influences NCDs in Africa because some religious leaders do not encourage their members to constantly visit the hospital and also receive treatment for NCDs.

Dr Mutale urged religious leaders not to prevent people from taking medication under the guise that they would be healed by miracles.

CPHIA Conference

The professor emphasized that the conference would cover significant NCD concerns and urged everyone to register since it promises to be an eye-opening event with significant suggestions that will be made to the government for execution.

About the CPHIA

The annual International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA) provides a unique African-led platform for leaders across the continent to reflect on lessons learnt in health and science, and align on a way forward for creating more resilient health systems.

Expanding the horizons of the conference, CPHIA 2023 will showcase how the continent is breaking down barriers, reaffirming Africa as a powerhouse in science and innovation, a generator of new knowledge and health products, and an exemplar of progress.

As African countries accelerate the realization of a New Public Health Order, this year’s conference will help to build a healthier, more prosperous Africa—for the continent and the world.

Kindly register for the international conference on public health in Africa here

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