Training Health Workers to Tackle íLifestyle Diseasesí

GlaxoSmithKline and Amref Health Africa have launched a new programme to train health workers on management of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The three-year programme will train 2,500 health workers including nurses, clinical officers, laboratory technicians, nutritionists, pharmaceutical technicians, community health volunteers and community health extension workers on prevention screening, diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care for diabetes and childhood asthma. It will target four counties in Kenya – Nairobi, Kilifi, Kakamega and Nyeri.

Speaking at the launch of the project, Mr Zachary Ndegwa of the Division of Non-communicable Diseases in Kenya’s Ministry of Health noted that unhealthy lifestyles among Kenyans, including unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity, had led to a rapid increase in diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, depression, heart disease and cancer.

Zeroing in on diabetes, Mr Ndegwa said that the condition was prevalent in Central, Eastern, Western and Coast regions, with high alcohol consumption being one of the contributing factors.

He decried the fact that there was very low public awareness of diabetes, its risk factors and available prevention options. “In Kenya only 27.2 per cent of the population has adequate knowledge of diabetes while only 41 per cent of the population have adopted practices that promote diabetes prevention,” he said. Because screening of diabetes was not routine in clinical practice, he said, 60 per cent of cases were missed at presentation, while most patients also sought treatment too late, when they already had irreversible complications.

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He noted that Kenya has a critical inadequacy of skilled resources to manage chronic diseases. Curricula for training health workers in the country have traditionally emphasised treatment of infectious diseases, with little attention paid to NCDs. As a result, the few health workers available are not adequately trained or equipped to effectively treat or manage complications of these diseases.

Amref Health Africa Group CEO Dr Githinji Gitahi said NCDs were no longer diseases of the very old or very rich as perceived in the past. “They are now a health priority for all. We need to reduce risk factors such as smoking, drinking pollution, and drive a mindset change among out people to adopt healthier lifestyles,” he said.

He emphasised the importance of ensuring access to essential medicines, and of improving surveillance in order to determine the extent of the problem in Africa so that we can effectively deal with the it. “In this way, we will save lives and economies, we will promote social cohesion, and we will support a healthy planet.”

The NCD programme, said Dr Gitahi, was a shared value partnership aimed at reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases by creating awareness and ensuring that more people sought health services.

GSK’s Vice-President for Africa and Developing Countries, Ramil Burden, said that the pharmaceutical was keen on investing in research and manufacturing “in Africa for Africa”. The company, he said, was revising its business model and investing in innovations to increase access to medicine by all, no matter their purchasing power or geographical location.

“The health burden in sub-Saharan Africa is huge – 25 per cent of the global total – yet we only have 2 per cent of the world’s health workers. However, by working in partnerships we can make a big difference,” he said.

Dr Peter Ngatia, Amref Health Africa’s Director of Capacity Building, noted that the NGO had been partnering with GSK for the last 27 years to strengthen health service delivery, train health workers, provide medicines and vaccines and build leadership and management skills in health care. “By training health workers on how to manage NCDs, we will begin to make inroads into dealing with the huge disease burden that the continent currently bears,” he said.