Professor Gerald Yonga, chair of the Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance, East Africa addresses a public lecture at the Aga Khan University Hospital
On October 24, 2019, Professor Gerald Yonga, chair of the Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance in East Africa, presented a lecture at the Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi (AKUHN) on How to Avoid Getting NCDs. The lecture was part of a series of weekly seminars led by the Aga Khan School of Nursing and Midwifery (AKU-SONAM) and the Medical College at AKUHN to mark the Hospital's 60th anniversary. Several practitioners in the healthcare field attended the session at the Hospital's Lecture Theatre to draw from the Professor's 18 years of experience in non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
According to Professor Yonga, the term non-communicable disease confuses many people because "we are often told what NCDs are not, instead of what they are". Taking this dilemma into consideration, the Professor highlighted that NCDs are health conditions that arise from behavioral factors and practices which can be influenced by policy and culture. He stressed against NCDs being termed "lifestyle diseases" because this meant that the victim's choices led to the illness, yet in some cases, policy factors are involved. Examples of NCDs are cardiovascular disease (CVDs), cancers, respiratory diseases (bronchitis, asthma) and diabetes. These four conditions collectively account for over 80% of all premature NCD deaths and are more prevalent in lower and middle-income countries such as Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The Professor added that these diseases emerge from activities such as smoking, improper diet, excessive alcohol intake as well as environmental factors such as pollution. Additionally, he had a special warning for parents with young children, saying that "During school holidays you see parents totting around with their kids in fast-food restaurants. That is when you appreciate how much danger we're in" particularly when it comes to dieting.
Professor Yonga noted that if no measures are adopted to reduce the number of deaths caused by non-communicable diseases, then they are "going to be as big of a killer as HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis combined."
On the subject of prevention, he left the audience with one thought: investment in dialysis and chemotherapy machines is good, but preventing NCDs through behavioral changes is better. He urged individuals to take the stairs instead of the lift, to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables, to reduce their overall consumption of salt, tobacco, and alcohol as well as promote regular screening for NCDs at their workplaces. Similarly, he urged the government to provide easier access to screening facilities, establish counselling programmes in schools to help children learn how to avoid getting NCDs from a young age, develop pedestrian walkways for citizens to feel more comfortable while walking or cycling, promote construction of energy-efficient buildings and implement policies that discourage air, agricultural and environmental pollution. As a parting shot, he urges everyone to play their part in implementing change and not to wait on the government because everyone has a part to play.
The lecture series will continue on November 29 as AKU-SONAM and the Medical College collaborate to organize public lectures which create awareness on health matters that affect East Africa's population.