LSE Health, The British Academy and LSE’s African Initiative recently launched a British Academy Report Africa’s Neglected Epidemic: Multidisciplinary Research, Intervention and Policy for Chronic Diseases ahead of a UN High-Level meeting looking into chronic non-communicable diseases in September. LSE Health’s Dr Ama de-Graft Aikins, who wrote the report, looks at the points of view put forward by New York University’s Dr Olubenga Ogedegbe and Professor Francis Dodoo of Pennsylvania State University and the University of Ghana on Africa’s chronic disease burden at the report launch at LSE.
Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer have become major causes of disability and death on the continent. Chronic diseases kill more adult men and women in Africa than in virtually all other regions of the world.
The problem has been made worse by the continued threat of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and other neglected tropical diseases, and a critical lack of human, financial and technological resources in the health sector.
Dr Olubenga Ogedegbe had two key messages. The first was that enough was known about the scale and implications of chronic diseases on African populations. It was time to prioritise and implement urgent interventions.
The second was task shifting. He called for ordinary citizens or junior health workers to be trained to provide prevention education, treatment and support to the chronically ill. Dr Ogedegbe said that this was likely to provide the best immediate solution to the health crisis posed by chronic diseases.
Professor Dodoo observed that chronic diseases were diseases of the poor as well as of the rich and they affected most individuals in their economically productive years. Lifestyle played an important role in its rising prevalence, with poor diet and lack of exercise being major risk factors.
Professor Dodoo argued that chronic diseases were neglected by Africa’s development partners and donors because, unlike infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, they did not travel and did not pose a threat to people in the rich western world.
Yet, persistent neglect was likely to have grave long-term consequences for African public health and economic development because chronic diseases are characterised by a complex interplay of poverty, poor quality of care, disability and premature death.