Mod­ern life, bad habits: Africa faces new ill­nesses

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

When Rose Kar­iuki first felt a lump on her left breast, the spec­tre of can­cer - a dis­ease she had only heard of on tele­vi­sion - was the last thing on her mind. “To me, can­cer was nowhere near us. It was shock­ing, I feared death, I feared so many things,” the 46-year-old Kenyan school teacher told AFP. Rose is one of a growing num­ber of Africans suf­fer­ing from can­cer, one of the life­style dis­eases - along with di­a­betes and heart prob­lems - prov­ing in­creas­ing deadly on the con­ti­nent.

A World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) sur­vey re­leased Tues­day showed that most Africans had at least one risk fac­tor for de­vel­op­ing one of th­ese dis­eases, such as smok­ing, a lack of ex­er­cise, poor diet and obe­sity. Women were most at risk, the study showed. Af­ter Rose un­der­went a mas­tec­tomy of her left breast, watched her hair fall out and nails grow black un­der chemo­ther­apy, she was de­clared can­cer-free.

But her trou­bles were not over. Her 64-yearold mother was al­ready suf­fer­ing from di­a­betes but was “wast­ing away”, and Rose en­cour­aged her to get tested. It turned out she had pan­cre­atic can­cer. “I think maybe mum’s life­style has brought about this. She lives in Nairobi, she is not mov­ing a lot, she is not go­ing to fetch water like the lady in the vil­lage,” said Rose. Rose is now teach­ing her 16-year-old daugh­ter to ex­er­cise and not eat too much junk food, while she has taken up free yoga and dance classes at the Faraja sup­port cen­ter for can­cer pa­tients in Nairobi.

‘Fer­tile ground’

Nairobi, the big­gest city in East Africa, is typ­i­cal of the in­creas­ingly ur­ban life­style in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries on the con­ti­nent. Work­ers spend long hours in traf­fic snarls be­fore sit­ting be­hind desks all day. Week­ends are spent in shop­ping malls, and western junk food such as ham­burg­ers and pizza abound. The WHO study showed that in the 33 coun­tries sur­veyed, most adults did not con­sume the rec­om­mended com­bined five serv­ings of fruits and veg­eta­bles per day.

While the to­bacco, al­co­hol and food in­dus­tries have had to adapt to growing health­con­scious­ness in the West, this is not the case in Africa. “They see Africa as a fer­tile ground be­cause of the leg­is­la­tion and pol­icy weak­nesses that ex­ist in our re­gion, they see op­por­tu­nity to make a lot of profit,” said re­port au­thor Ab­dika­mal Alisalad. Philip Ouma, pa­tient sup­port man­ager at Faraja, said it was not just the mid­dle-class who were at risk. “Ini­tially they used to say can­cer is a dis­ease of the rich but we are find­ing a lot of peo­ple who are af­fected who are poor,” he said. “There is a pos­si­bil­ity that the di­ag­nos­tic sys­tems are bet­ter.”

Ac­cord­ing to the WHO, some four mil­lion peo­ple will die from non­com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases (NCDs) in Africa by 2020, and the fig­ure will sur­pass those of in­fec­tious dis­eases by 2030. Glob­ally deaths from NCDs will hit 44 mil­lion by 2020.

Year-long wait­ing list

Rose said that typ­i­cally, feel­ing sick in Africa meant you had caught an in­fec­tious dis­ease. “Here when peo­ple feel bad they think maybe it is like ty­phoid, it is malaria. (Most) can­cers present them­selves in a very funny way so it’s not of­ten you would even think you are suf­fer­ing from can­cer.” With poor pub­lic hos­pi­tals barely able to bear the bur­den of nor­mal healthcare chal­lenges in most African coun­tries, the dif­fi­cul­ties posed by a surge in life­style dis­eases are con­sid­er­able.

In Kenya’s main gov­ern­ment hospi­tal, pa­tients can find them­selves on a wait­ing list for up to a year to get ac­cess to ra­dio­ther­apy or chemo­ther­apy, and of­ten it is too late. A lo­cal tele­vi­sion re­port ear­lier this year showed dozens of can­cer pa­tients, who travel from far-flung ar­eas, sleep­ing on the floor of the hospi­tal as they have nowhere to go in be­tween ther­apy ses­sions. “Mean­while pri­vate hos­pi­tals have ma­chines that are ly­ing idly be­cause they are ex­pen­sive but the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple can­not af­ford them so it is a big prob­lem,” said Ouma. He said the wealthy from sur­round­ing coun­tries were lucky, they can fly to In­dia or Nairobi which has four pri­vate hos­pi­tals. Pa­tients from Uganda have flocked to Kenya ever since the coun­try’s only ra­dio­ther­apy ma­chine broke down in April, and oth­ers from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tan­za­nia, Mada­gas­car and the Sey­chelles also come to Nairobi for treat­ment. “Those who can­not come, they give up and they stay at home,” said Ouma. — AFP

NAIROBI: Kenyan school teacher and breast can­cer sur­vivor Rose Kar­iuki reads pam­phlets at the Faraja can­cer care cen­ter on Mon­day. — AFP

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