New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Unhealthy Lifestyle Costing Uganda Lives

Doctors have decried the poor health-seeking behavior common among Ugandans, saying the practice is not only costing patients a lot of money but is also costing the country lots of lives.

Dr. Simon Peter Eyoku, a senior nephrologist [kidney expert] at Mulago Hospital says most Ugandans wait until they are critically ill until they can go to hospital.

"They come when it is already late and they want to be saved. How? But most of these diseases can be prevented or stopped when diagnosis is done early."

Citing kidney disease, Eyoku says the loss of function usually takes months or years to occur. "So when urine samples tell someone is developing the disease, they can be given medication to support the organ and prevent it from shutting down."

The kidneys are responsible for cleansing the blood stream.

The medic says people have to learn to test for kidney disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and any other ailments every after five months even if they feel fine, no matter their age.

He explains that patients with mature disease (end-stage renal disease) usually are put on dialysis, "but do you know how expensive the treatment is?"

"At Mulago Hospital, for a week, patients pay sh1m; two weeks it is sh2m. And that is at Mulago, other hospitals charge more than sh2m per week."

"Now if you are to spend a year on the machine, how much money is that? And can you afford it?"

He admits that much as medicine has evolved and doctors can carry out transplants, kidney transplants are still not possible in Uganda. The patient has to be flown to India.

"The patient has to first get a kidney donor and then be flown to India. And not everyone is transplantable. At times the body can refuse the other kidney despite the drugs and the patient has to be put back on dialysis."

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the commonest causes of kidney disease.

'Healthy lifestyle'

Earlier, last week, during the health journalists conference at the Kampala Imperial Royale Hotel, medical experts stressed the need for emphasis on preventive health than curative health. Dr. Fred Okuku, an oncologist and head of the cancer institute at Mulago Hospital urged people to start practicing healthy lifestyles.

He underscored the need for people to involve themselves in physical exercises, to avoid eating fatty and sugary foodstuffs 'to minimize on some of these non-communicable diseases'.

The doctor said there was lots of illiteracy surrounding the cancer disease yet the disease is growing by the day. And that the numbers of cancer patients at the institute are ever going up and most of them are presented with advanced disease. "Right now if a patient comes to the institute and his prostate has to be taken out, he is booked for 2014," said Okuku.

He said cancer of the cervix which is caused by the HPV virus was the commonest, closely followed by breast cancer.

Elsewhere, Dr. Olive Ssentumbwe Mugisa, the chairperson of the White Ribbon Alliance Uganda Chapter called on women to try and have pregnancies at the right age - between 20 years and 34 years - to avoid child-birth related complications.

"And don't get pregnant too frequently," was her crisp reminder. "Space and use family planning. Someone has a baby today. But before the baby is off the breast she is already pregnant. This wears the body."

The maternal mortality ratio in Uganda has changed minimally over the last decade and about 16 women still lose their lives daily. This statistic is coupled with some 45,000 newborns dying every year as a result of pregnancy-related causes.

But about 88% of these maternal deaths can be prevented. "For nine months someone is pregnant," said Dr. Olive. "During this time they don't attend antenatal classes and they think they will give birth at home, perhaps with the help of a traditional birth attendant."

"What happens when they develop complications at the last hour? They don't have money. The nearest health facility is about 10 kilometers away. They reach the hospital when the baby is already dead. Now what do you want the midwife to do?"

"Both you and me - men and women - have a duty to see that we reduce the numbers of women and children who die because of pregnancy-related complications. (And for) the man, you need to start setting aside some money the moment your wife gets pregnant, and accompany her for antenatal classes."

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