By NBF News

As a result of the challenge posed by Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in Africa, all health ministers in the region and their development partners have moved for urgent action by various stakeholders to contain the menacing scourge.

At the maiden Africa Regional Ministerial Consultation on NCDs held in Brazzaville, Congo, the ministers resolved to invigorate and standardize national health systems to generate disaggregated data on the diseases, which they all admitted, represented 'a significant challenge' to the people of the region.

In Nigeria, the NCDs burden is enormous, according to the Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu. He listed cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, diseases of blood disorder (sickle cell), mental health, violence and injuries among the top 10 causes of mortality and morbidity among adults.

All these, the minister explained, impose heavy economic burden on the individual, the community and the health system. The plan adopted by the ministers to tackle NCDs supports the use of all appropriate means, including information and communication technologies. Expectedly, these will promote, intensify and increase awareness of the problem and empowerment of individuals and communities.

The health ministers will also develop and implement NCDs prevention and control strategies, guidelines, policies, legislations and regulatory frame-works to protect individuals, families and communities from unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol, tobacco use, exposure to tobacco smoke and other bad habits that contribute to development of NCDs. They also intend to safeguard the public from unsafe food, violence and injuries, and advertising of healthy products.

Part of their goal is to reorient national health systems towards the promotion and support of healthy lifestyles by individuals, families and communities within the primary health care context in order to effectively respond to complex socio-cultural practices associated with NCDs. The decision by African health ministers to address the problem of non-communicable disease on the continent is commendable. We welcome any initiative that could drastically reduce the NCDs burden. Our only worry is that implementation fatigue and insufficient funding may hamper this laudable initiative.

Let this brilliant proposal not end up at the incubation stage. We implore all African countries to fully implement the project and address, fully, all the identified health problems it is meant to tackle. To ensure its success, all governments on the continent, their development partners and other stakeholders must adequately fund the initiative.

There should also be massive enlightenment campaigns on radio, television and newspapers on the causes of these debilitating diseases, their symptoms, management and preventive measures. Such messages should be translated into the various African languages for ease of understanding by rural dwellers. Since some of the diseases are precipitated by unhealthy lifestyles, the public should be adequately informed on behaviour modification activities that can keep them free of these diseases. They should also be enlightened on options for treatment and where such treatments are obtainable.

There is the need for manpower training on some of these ailments as well as retraining of existing medical workforce to keep them abreast of developments in the areas. Let African countries build specialised and well- equipped hospitals that can handle some of these NCDs. Government should establish diagnostic centres that can detect the conditions on time.

All tiers of government in the country should contribute towards realising this noble goal. The problem, most times, is that the diseases are diagnosed late, when intervention is less helpful. Let Nigeria set up centres that can diagnose and tackle these ailments at the early stages. We should also support more research into our local herbs to find out ways that they can either ameliorate or cure some of these life-threatening ailments.