Redefining healthcare priorities

Ebola has had its share of popularity during the past months, with increasing mortality levels in West African countries which have landed a significant blow to their economic prospects, as it would any country.

Ebola has had its share of popularity during the past months, with increasing mortality levels in West African countries which have landed a significant blow to their economic prospects, as it would any country.

The pandemic has shown again the weak capacity of the continent to fight public health threats, with so many funds used on the stabilising treatment and isolation sides and only a few-to-none used on discovery of new treatment options, including vaccines.

The consequences are there, over five thousand of lives have been lost, but we cannot go without recognising the efforts by Senegal and Nigeria to actually tame the pandemic in due time.

A tropical weather, demographics and hygiene are all potential risks of having Ebola virus spread easily. But for a so deadly virus, which actually started over three decades ago in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, a lot would have been done in terms of research of the science behind Ebola spread and its cure.

The same hundreds of millions of dollars that have been pumped into fighting the scourge within the past few months would have been better invested, perhaps years back, in research, in my own opinion.

These poor souls of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone would have been spared.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with some friends some time back on how we are growing into a quick-to-react generation and not planners.

And this, in terms of public health, is in itself dangerous.

Infectious diseases like malaria, HIV/Aids, Ebola, through different national protocols, are being controlled at the international levels.

Many more education tools on the do’s and don’ts to prevent are available and the general population is aware of them.

The increasing and growing patterns of Non Communicable Diseases across Africa are worrisome. And this comes from little things, done everyday individually, which at the first look are innocent but which, in the long run, expose people to incurable diseases.

Just as a reminder, tuberculosis, malaria and some Sexually Transmitted Infections can be treated successfully.

Little is being done to address the danger of diabetes, cancers, and heart diseases on the continent. Elsewhere, accidents and cancers are the two most common killers.

Sadly enough, we are being stricken by those. Many more Traumatic Brain Injuries are in hospitals and yet poor management protocols are in place.

Many life years are lost by patients, either by death or by disability mainly because of Non Communicable Diseases. Screening and prevention are still considered not necessary or just very expensive to afford. Life is not cheap.

We cannot bargain with the dangers ahead. Obesity is having its place with a sedentary lifestyle across the nation. Rwanda has been ranked among the three countries in the region with the highest alcohol consumption rate.

This itself, with a lot of consequences in terms of health.

Cancer, once taken as disease-of-the-rich, is becoming real. Yet, little is known really about the types, the odds of developing it, and the cure options. Many cancers can be preventable or can heal totally, but screening is paramount.

Only one could wish we could step from a defending healthcare to an offending one. Going on and having our own research terms and particularities because, at the end of the day, we are unique. Things done elsewhere cannot just be applied on the field because of some different realities. I am more prone to have tuberculosis than having an allergy to pollen.

This means redefining the priorities, redefining the public health sector as a whole. Only a few weeks ago, a local telecom company offered millions of Rwandan Francs for Ebola prevention. It is an appraisable act, but which can yield more results if it was used differently.

How healthy people would be if they only apply some general rule principles? Health does not limit itself to washing hands, hygiene, a protected sexual life or sleeping in a bed net. It goes beyond that and includes, regular exercise, low fat diet, little alcohol, and general health information.

Screening must have its place. Simple rules of palpating one’s breast regularly for females can be of great benefit. Funds directed at research on children’s cancers would be of great importance for future generations.

For a healthy continent.

The writer is a doctor based at Ruhengeri Hospital.