15 September 2017

Ethiopia: High Time to Fight Non-Communicable Diseases

Photo: Clinic Compare
The most unhealthy to the least unhealthy countries on the continent, according to Clinic Compare. Data from World Health Organization, the CIA World Factbook and the World Lung Association was used in this research.

Ethiopia's tremendous success in curbing the expansion of communicable diseases as per of the Millennium Development Goals is still in everyone's short-term memory. Of course, the growing number of health and educational institutes has played crucial roles in this regard. As Non- Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are creating huge burdens currently, the best practices of the past need to be emulated and replicated in this respect too.

Currently, 60 percent of global deaths are caused by cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.

The Matheos Wondu -YeEthiopia Cancer Society Program Manager, Zelalem Menghistu makes clear that NCDs mainly affects the youth section of the society here. He attributes the causes to the increasing addiction rates of Khat, alcohol, tobacco and drugs. This sector of the society also suffers from unhealthy diet, inadequate physical activity, over weight and obesity.

Traditional habits and ceremonies which promote the use of Khat and alcohol are also mentioned as aggravating factors. In some case, therefore, the practice of such harmful habits can also have roots at a family level. To make matters worse, the fast growing urbanization, meant to enhance the socio-economic development of communities, can also end up increasing the addiction rate.

The expansion of urbanization also further aggravates the situation. Youth in the urban center are highly likely to be influenced by their peers, as various researches have shown.

Currently, higher educational institutions are expanding benefiting particularly the youth of the nation. But, as students are assigned in places far from their neighborhoods, some students find it easy to bend to peers' pressures.

The changing way of life, due to economic growth, also brought its own demerit. The rapid economic developments which are accompanied by change in dietary and consumption habit as well as behavior contribute to the increasing risks of preventable chronic illness.

In a country like ours, chronic diseases bring a great burden on the patient's family members and relatives. When member of a family is in ill-health, medical spending increases and/or the family's income reduces.

Asnakech Alemu is a team leader with the Ethiopian Food, Medicine, and Healthcare Administration and Control Authority. According to her, treating cancers or other NCDs is very challenging. Due to the expensive nature of the price of the medicine, no one shows interest in the importation of the drugs. Few patients from well-off families access the medicine. Plus, the only hospital in the country which has sufficient equipment and qualified human resources to treat such diseases is Black Lion Hospital. It has radio and chemo therapy machine which is critical to treat the patients--but one can easily figure out the burden on the hospital.

But as mentioned earlier, protecting citizen's health from tobacco, Khat, and alcohol, etc is the most important way to counter the challenge, as the saying goes prevention is better than cure.

In fact, the preventive efforts also face challenges from various groups. There are people who earn their living by selling those harmful products. There is a value chain from tobacco growers, traders to factories.

These business men have license to do their jobs and have employees who are tax payers like anybody. Thus, any effort which backs preventive schemes such as legal ways would end up being an uphill journey.

On the other hand, Ethiopia is one of the tobacco producing countries and recently the tobacco factory, located in the capital, has been privatized to the Japanese company. The factory has employed thousands of workers. Since a long time ago, it has been utilizing imported tobacco input because locally produced one has been far from satisfying the growing demand. It goes without saying, the importation of the inputs put pressure on the nation's meager hard currency reserve apart from increasing the disease burden.

Not only this, most expensive alcohols consumed in urban centers are not produced here, the substances are imported goods, hence, tobacco and alcohols in addition to aggravating the health risk, they have daunting economic impacts.

There are also several liquor and cigarette products that enter to the country from neighboring countries through illegal trade. These all make preventive efforts so tough.

Tobacco smoke not only affects the smokers but also the second hand smokers who innocently inhale smoke without their will. According to a recent study 12.6 percent of adults were exposed to tobacco smoke at their work place and 10.3 percent were exposed at home. This also indicates the complex nature of the issue.

Like many other countries, the future of the growing economy relies on the youth. And the over 28 million students who are currently enrolled in schools all over the country should at least be helped to enjoy a clean learning environment. Khat parlors and liquor houses should not be allowed around schools, colleges and universities. But at most, there should be important measures that discourage the importation of addictive stuffs. And the MDGs health achievement in communicable diseases needs to be replicated for the non-communicable ones as well. For this, stakeholders concerted efforts are so crucial.

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