BY: Sarah Njeri

Every Nation depends on its people as the workforce to drive its economy. An economy is only considered to be sustainable based on the economic stability of its people. Though not always emphasized, the health of the people plays a key role in building and sustaining an economy.

The rise of non communicable diseases (NCDs) in Africa which are more often than not, chronic in nature, exposes people to a silent threat of unforeseen medical expenses that destabilizes people financially and emotionally.

Diseases like Cancer, Cardiovascular diseases, Diabetes have taken Centre stage as leading NCDs in Africa, affecting the low income, middle class and the high income populations.

That said, the African economy is affected; one, by loss of people to diseases, some people, whose unique contribution to our society would have boosted the Economy with their innovative gifts, talents and skills they possess. Two, absenteeism from work by persons affected or by family members, to take care of a sick loved one also reflects negatively on our economy. Three, huge medical bills risks families meant to climb from low to middle income or from middle income to high income sinking to a lower status, sometimes to below poverty line.

Despite the great emphasis on Primary Health Care by the Declaration of the Alma Alta, most health systems in Africa are geared towards treatment and management rather than Prevention and Early detection. This means, as the rate and impact of non communicable diseases increases, and out breaks of Epidemics like Ebola and HIV/AIDS increase, coupled with the cost of managing already existing communicable diseases in Africa, the national healthcare budget each Year  increases.

Governments left alone cannot be able to take on the huge task to meet the ever increasing need of access to quality healthcare by its people.  There is need for governments in Africa to consider actively engaging all the major stakeholders.

The private healthcare sector can be engaged more in increasing accessibility to healthcare. Standardizing consultation, laboratory services, radio-logical, surgical, inpatient and specialist services, means more accessibility, compared to the current trend where cost of services provided in the private healthcare sector vary diversely, sometimes from hospital to hospital.

Also, the private health care insurance industry needs to be engaged to deliver more affordable packages that will open up access to the previously locked out population due to high premium rates.

Adoption and utilization of Community Health Workers into the health care system has always produced positive results. When engaged, they worked in reducing child mortality in various countries. For example, In Tanzania, CHWs help in early detection and making referrals for pneumonia, malaria and in providing health education in sanitation and hygiene to communities.

In Rwanda, Community Health Workers have been engaged in maternal and child health care programs to monitor pregnant women during and after delivery and to monitor infants throughout their childhood, hence  there has been overall improved health status of women and their children and reduction of maternal and child deaths significantly over the years.

The use of CHWs means significant reduction in cost of treating of diseases due to emphasis placed on preventive health education and early detection of disease.

Lastly, investment in surveillance of disease patterns, documentation and reporting means that we will have up to date information on the health of the people which will help in rolling out programmes that are relevant and help in managing the limited funds available.

Ultimately, the health of people in Africa will play a key role in achieving sustainable economies, hence there is need to strategize on how to deliver quality and affordable health care.


Sarah Njeri is a guest columnist.


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