December 14, 2016

Curbing sudden deaths in Nigeria

Curbing sudden deaths in Nigeria

People carry a sick child on a stretcher outside the Elwa hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) in Monrovia on August 30, 2014. Liberia has been hardest-hit by the Ebola virus raging through west Africa, with 624 deaths and 1,082 cases since the start of the year. AFP PHOTO

The high prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in Nigeria originates primarily from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) such as High Blood Pressure (HBP) or hypertension, diabetes, stroke, coronary heart diseases, and chronic obstructive airway diseases including asthma, among others.

Hospital records show that hypertension is the leading cardiovascular disease in the country, with one in five Nigerians being hypertensive and at risk of stroke and premature death.

Sudden deaths are commonplace in the country. Majority of recent deaths in Nigeria are related to heart attack, strokes or diabetic complications. Most people who are hypertensive or diabetic are unaware of their conditions which accounts for the high sudden death rate. Death rate from stroke in the country is 40-50 per cent within the first three months of diagnosis, while 39 per cent of those who survive after three months die within a year, with 12 per cent developing severe disability.

NCDs were once erroneously believed to be the problems of the affluent, but the reality is that both the rich and poor are affected. It is the poor that actually bear the greater brunt because of poverty and ignorance.

One of the major contributors to the development of NCDs in the country is unhealthy diet, spiked by widespread low consumption of proteins, fruits and vegetables, and increasing patronage of fast food outlets.

Large-scale promotion of sweetened products such as carbonated drinks, pastries, candies and other refined sugars add to the problem. Worse still, excessive intake of salt is promoted by food additives such as Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) commonly utilised in seasoning local delicacies such as  suya, kilisi, isi-ewu, ngwo-ngwo,  among others. Other NCD risk factors are the use of tobacco products, unhealthy diets, harmful alcohol intake, physical inactivity and air pollution.

To tackle this menace, Nigeria has developed national targets and indicators in alignment with the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020.

Even as the primary objective is to target unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, tobacco and alcohol abuse, air pollution and other contributors to NCDs, government and its partners must seek to ensure better screening, prevention, and treatment of NCDs among the generality of Nigerians.

To stem the rising tide of NCDs, all Nigerians should be encouraged to adopt healthy lifestyles. The National Tobacco Control Act of 2015 which bans smoking in public places should be enforced. The division of the Department of Public Health responsible for coordination of all NCD- focused activities should be more responsive in dealing with the threat to citizens posed by NCDs.

It is hoped that the proposed nationwide survey on NCDs for early 2017 will help push the national strategic plan of action aimed at providing a framework for effective control and management of NCDs in the country.