“Cost of Diabetes Care in Africa Could Triple By 2030“, when I read headlines like this, I get both a sinking feeling and my blood boils.

The healthcare systems in our countries in Sub-Saharan Africa already are despicable. We have not yet embraced preventive care and we are “developing” in frank terms quite poorly. We do not have universal health coverage and out of pocket expenditure for people to pay for health care is staggering – often forcing them to choose between health or food.

Therefore, to read that diabetes care could triple just means that we will definitely lose a lot of productive, educated, professional people. How will we ever catch up to the rest of the world?

An NCD like diabetes leads to complications such as leg amputations – that means a person who could walk, run, take a bus or drive to work will need extra help to do so – or it means s/he will not be able to go to work at all. None of our public transportation systems cater to the disabled. So if this person were a bread winner, the family will suffer – go without food, shelter and education for children will not even be considered. Even if this person were self-employed, it would result in many disruptions for the business. To make this even more dire, the amputation may cause infection and death leading to a burden on the family to bury and sustenance.

Let’s look at another picture, maybe the person doesn’t get a limb amputated but instead needs medication or maybe even insulin, that’s a load for someone who already has other responsibilities to carry. Our governments in general and health ministries in particular are ill-equipped to provide free services for a disease such as diabetes.

On a brighter note, it is quite easy to stop the disease from being contracted. Firstly exercise is very important. I have these conversations with my friends all the time.

We have 24 hours in a day – why is it we don’t love ourselves enough to take just one of those hours to exercise or even 30 mins to take a walk? It makes a humongous difference and makes us ward off NCDs. We have become so invested in using transportation that we won’t even walk 500 meters. We will risk our lives on public transportation or those hazardous motorcycles (especially here in East Africa) just because they are there or we are too lazy to walk or we don’t want others to see us walk? We are slowly killing ourselves.

I walk to work and home every day but people always ask me why? WHY???? Because I don’t want to inflict suffering and a painful death on myself, that’s why.

Secondly, alcohol use. As we continue to sit on our laurels, we use alcohol like it’s going out of business. It is one of the reasons why people get diabetes. Any doctor will inform a patient who has the symptoms of early Type II. STOP using alcohol. This is not to scare us or to make our lives difficult. It is because alcohol has a lot of sugar. It is made from grains which are starches which turn to sugar in our bodies. Wine as well is a fruit which has a lot of sugar. Most of the excuses one hears is that alcohol makes a person forget their problems. Instead, it exacerbates our problems. Once the booze wears off, the problems become a mountain. Alcohol does not provide any nutrients to the body and instead dehydrates the system – thus the hangover.

Thirdly, diet. On top of not exercising and our growing addiction to alcohol, we eat worse than we did in the days that we spent working in the fields. Only, we burn less calories due to our sedentary lifestyles, important from the West, along with Western diets – full of empty calories. We eat a lot of processed foods, fatty foods, sugary foods and yet spend none of the energy because after work, a person is behind the wheel of a car, stuck in traffic for an hour or more, gets home, sits, eats and sleeps. Then one wonders why their waistline is increasing. Going back to the basics – more vegetables should be consumed, less meat and less carbohydrates.

Lastly, Ministries of Health and their government colleagues across Sub-Saharan Africa need to wake up and step up. We need urgent efforts to implement the WHO NCDs Global Action Plan. We need urgent investments in prevention of the four NCDs risk factors: alcohol, tobacco, poor diet and physical inactivity. But our governments are not on track. Shockingly, new analysis shows that less than half of the world’s countries have set NCD targets.

We need an urgent and consistent effort to implement the best buy policy measures, combined with the need to launch campaigns to prevent the onset of diabetes (and other NCDs). Don’t get me wrong: it’s not just about one “diabetes day”. That’s one day out of 365.

For example, Ministries of Roads and Infrastructure need to ensure there are sidewalks in and around cities so that people are encouraged to walk and run around where they live or work. The Ministries of Youth, Sports and Culture need to encourage being active through policy and through promoting role models and environments that foster healthy lifestyle. I also call on First Ladies – they should take a cue from former FLOTUS, the phenomenal Michelle Obama who launched LET’s MOVE to get America moving. Women should form walking, and running groups. Schools should do the same and so should the men. We cannot afford to just sit and watch this insidious disease come to destroy us.

For instance, the World Health Organization is running a beautiful campaign: NCDs & me.

Along with policy best buy implementation and renewed commitment to tackle this looming disaster for our societies, we must curb the activities of harmful industries fueling both unhealthy environments and unhealthy lifestyles through their health harmful products, business methods and aggressive marketing campaigns across Sub-Saharan Africa. We cannot stand buy when alcohol and sugary drinks companies put massive billboards next to primary schools and kindergartens; when they bully and pressure our politicians; and when they try do conquer our continent in their ruthless pursuit of profits.

Let’s do something about it. The stakes are high. The need is urgent. But we know what we must do. vAnd so, let’s do it. For a better tomorrow, we must act today.

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