Researchers Brainstorm On Solutions To Communicable Diseases In Africa

Dr Fred Bukachi, a Cardiologist and heart specialist, at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, says non-communicable diseases are on the rise in Africa, and emphasised the need for a healthy lifestyle.

Bukachi, also the Director, of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence for Non-Communicable Diseases, disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Lagos.

He spoke on the sidelines of an ARUA workshop, with the theme: Re-imagining the Future of Higher Education in Africa, put together by the Universities of Lagos and Nairobi.

ARUA held its 4th biennial international conference from Wednesday to Friday, with several sessions having over 17 universities from across the continent and beyond in attendance.

According to the cardiologist, Africa is at a crossroads because diseases are rising everywhere across the continent.

He listed the diseases to include hypertension, diabetes, stroke and cancer.

The cardiologist emphasised the need for people to know that they cannot afford to treat non-communicable diseases, as it was expensive for families, communities and governments.

“This workshop is important in a number of ways. Summarily for us as health workers, or people interested in health, we are looking at how we can design innovative ways to combat these diseases.

“This is because these diseases are currently on the rise and ravaging the continent. People must realise that we cannot afford to treat non-communicable diseases, as it is too expensive.

“We cannot afford to treat patients with stroke, for instance, kidney disease and diabetes. So, the answer lies in prevention and early detection. This has been the cornerstone of what we have been advocating in this conference.

“We need to create new ways, innovative ways to be able to detect the diseases early and intervene early.

“The other thing is, when we talk about prevention, the general public needs to know everybody has a responsibility to know their numbers.

“Do you know your blood pressure today? Do you know your level of blood sugar, your weight and beyond that, if you smoke, you must stop smoking and if you drink excess alcohol, you must stop.

“You must also look at your diet and ask if it is the desirable diet for your heart,” he said.

According to him,  the responsibility solely lies in the hands of the people, to have immunity in preventing the diseases.

He pointed out that in all of these, the academia also had a huge task in ensuring that they improve their interaction with the communities.

Bukachi said that traditionally, universities perform research to be able to come up with new ways of doing various things.

He, however, said that there was a disconnect between university education and the communities.

The cardiologist noted that the theme of the conference explained clearly why the universities could no longer continue to do things the same old ways.

“We need to go out to the communities and not allow communities to come to us, because they will never be able to do that. This is the beginning and this is exactly what we are doing,” he said.

Prof. Oluyemi Akintoye, Director, Centre for Genomics and Non-Communicable Disease, University of Lagos, said that the workshop would provide a platform to interface with issues concerning the diseases.

According to him, it has become clear that non-communicable diseases are more of a pandemic than infectious diseases that have attracted the attention of the global community.

He noted that there was high mortality and morbidity across Africa attributable to non-communicable diseases, which was challenging.

“We gave these collaborative efforts so as to be able to approach the challenges with mystic solutions.

“We have people from across disciplines such as Sociology, Law, Economics, Mathematics and of course Science with branches from Genomics, Cell Biology and Biochemistry among others.

“We all come together to navigate how to prevent this pandemic from ravaging the world. This we can also achieve by ensuring that we do not lock ourselves up as researchers within the walls of the classrooms.

“We do not have the choice anymore. We cannot continue with our old ways of doing things. It is no longer helping us nor is it the way to go, in terms of finding solutions to challenges,” he said.

The don said it was anticipated that researchers would go back home and together generate data that could be translated to patient care, individuals and people on the street.

A professor of Biochemistry at, University of Lagos, Aderonke Samuel, said that non-communicable diseases were easy platforms for communicable diseases to thrive

“They are the ones you may not notice on time until it gets to almost the end stage. Secondly, the moment you have a non-communicable disease, most of the time, you are susceptible to communicable diseases.

An example is that during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of persons with underlying ailments such as stroke, diabetes or who suffered obesity died, as they are all non-communicable diseases.

“Unfortunately, most of these diseases we can prevent, only if we can improve our ways of life.

“Unhealthy living is dangerous. In all spheres and in all forms, there are some non-communicable that are genetic, some because of environmental pollution, but quite a lot of others are because of unhealthy living,” she said.

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