The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Responding to the Global Burden of Disease

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Disease burden is the overall impact that health conditions have on an individual and society alike.

It is not limited to one's disability, quality of life and life expectancy but also the financial implications associated with the development of serious health conditions. The cost of disease far exceeds the cost associated with maintaining health.

Prevention, awareness and improved access to quality care can significantly improve outcomes locally, regionally and globally. Prevention of disease is not early detection of disease but early action of health.

Many of the major health conditions have achievable solutions that are not limited by poor access to healthcare services. If you're looking for solutions - it starts with your personal choices.

Mother and Children Deaths

Almost 15 percent of deaths in women of reproductive age are associated with preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Annually, over 500,000 women die from complications from lifestyle induced disease and lack of care before, during and after childbirth.

20 million children worldwide are severely malnourished and 10 million children under the age of 5 will die each year according to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics. Under-nutrition is the underlying cause of death for 30 percent but the remaining (the majority) can be significantly reduced through simple and cost-effective interventions and programs. A shift is needed from the treatment to the prevention of disease.

What can we do?

Severe bleeding after birth can kill a healthy woman within two hours if she is unattended. One of the primary causes of excessive bleeding is high blood pressure and poor clotting factors in the blood. Both of these conditions can be improved, managed or reversed with improved nutritional support.

Anemia -- the inability to clot blood can be treated the following ways:

A vitamin or mineral (especially iron) deficiency may lead to the most common types of anemia.

Rich sources of iron include dark green leafy vegetables, egg yolk, organ meats (liver and kidney), nuts and sprouted beans.

Absorption of iron improves with intake of vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruits, greens, and peppers.

Infection after childbirth can be eliminated if good hygiene is practiced and if early signs of infection are recognized and treated in a timely manner. A strong immune system that is created by a healthy diet and regular physical activity will help fight off infection as well.

Breastfeeding is the most readily available and cost-effective techniques that will provide optimal nutrition to under-nourished children. It is common to rely on formulas which do not provide the same nutrients and immune strengthening antibodies that breastfeeding does.

The Growing Concern of HIV/AIDS

Substantial progress has been made in the awareness, prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS but the mortality rates remains high. Poor lifestyle choices and cultural influences run deep and often times cause an individual to take a reactive versus proactive response to this devastating condition.

What can we do?

The greatest spikes in the transmission of HIV/AIDS are in communities that can do something about it. Practicing safe sex is one of the most important preventative techniques to reduce this growing global concern. Whenever you have sex, use a condom. When used properly and consistently, condoms are extremely effective.

HIV transmission can occur during pregnancy, childbirth and breast-feeding. Consult with your doctor immediately if you suspect that you are pregnant. Active steps can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to the unborn child.

Alarming Rates of Cancers

Tobacco use is a major cause of many of the world's top killer diseases - including cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive lung disease and lung cancer. In total, tobacco use is responsible for the death of almost one in ten adults worldwide.

Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of cancer in the world. In developing countries, smoking is responsible for more than 80% of all lung cancers. A non-smoker that is exposed to secondhand smoke increases their risk of the development of cancer and heart disease as well.

What can we do?

Throw out the tobacco. Additionally, up to one in six deaths can be linked to physical inactivity according to a recent study published in The Lancet. It is recommended to exercise daily. The easiest form of exercise is to go for a 15 -30 minute walk.

What you eat-and don't eat-has a powerful effect on your health, including your risk of cancer. One way is to eat more fiber. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It plays a significant role in keeping your immune system strong and healthy.

Suffering Heart Attacks & Stroke

Cardiovascular disease is the leading causes of death in the world. The greatest spikes are in low-to-middle income developing countries. Developing countries are developing destructive lifestyle habits that are developing disease. The rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease are closely related to the availability of processed packaged foods, sodas and tobacco products.

At least 80% of premature deaths from cardiovascular heart disease and strokes could be prevented through a healthy diet, regular physical activity and avoiding the use of tobacco according to WHO.

What can we do?

Avoid added sugar. Sugar is one of the most important products to avoid. Sodas, breads, cereals, boxed goods and even canned vegetables have added sugar. Sugar is a major contributor to weight gain, diabetes and eventually heart disease. It produces inflammation in the body which also contributes to conditions such as arthritis, hormonal imbalances and even cancer.

People who have excess body fat-especially around the midsection-are more likely to develop heart disease and diabetes. Weight progressively accumulates over time if lifestyle factors are not proactively managed. Eat plenty of fish, vegetables and healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil to lose weight and reduce your risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

Mental Health & Depression

Depression affects up to 120 million people worldwide and this number is projected to continue to increase. Depression has been directly and indirectly linked to obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and early death. It is observed daily in missed work-days, decreased productivity, strained relationships, and long-term suffering.

What can we do?

Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain helping it to function more optimally. Numerous studies confirm that exercise has a greater antidepressant than even medications. The greater the intensity, the greater the antidepressant effect.

The positive effects of exercise will last a lot longer than the exercise program itself. Although exercise should be a consistent part of everyone's lifestyle, many studies show that even when exercise is stopped for a period of time, its positive effects can linger for months afterward. The choices that we make today impact our health tomorrow. Improved daily choices and proactive interventions will greatly reduce the burden of disease, improve quality of life and extend one's life expectancy. The financial cost of disease treatment far exceeds the cost of improving one's lifestyle - take action today.

This column is directed by your questions, comments and inquiries. The health advice provided is in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of prevention, maintenance and natural treatment of disease. The advice is for educational purposes and does not necessarily reflect endorsement.

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