On May 29 this year, just less than three months ago, I was at the Maiduguri Township Stadium to witness the swearing in of the Borno State Governor, Alhaji
Kashim Shettima and his deputy, Alhaji Zannah Umar Mustapha. In the course of the weekend, I had opportunity to interact with Mustapha and I found him very friendly and engaging.
[Image: Alhaji Zannah Umar Mustapha]
It was therefore shocking to learn last Saturday that he died in his sleep in the course of an official trip to Yola, Adamawa State. While I commiserate with Governor Shettima and the people of Borno State, I pray that God will grant his family the fortitude to bear the painful loss.
However, what was particularly striking for me the moment I heard the tragic news was the manner of the deputy governor’s death. Not surprisingly, I noticed that Prof Sylvester Monye, (until last year the Special Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Budget Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation), was trying to reach me. I knew why he was calling and what he wanted to say.
About a month ago, I had a chance encounter with Monye at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre. He was there with his wife, Dr. Ifeoma Monye, a Chief Consultant Family Physician at the National Hospital, Abuja to book the venue for her 50th birthday coming up this Saturday. In the course of our discussion, Mrs. Monye said she wants to devote her birthday ceremony to raising “awareness of our lifestyle choices and how we can arrest the rising cases of sudden deaths in Nigeria.”
Citing several cases of relatively young people who sleep and never wake up, those who slump while walking or standing and never recover and those who suffer fatal strokes in their prime, Mrs. Monye said sudden deaths are becoming too common in our country, and most of them, she believes, are preventable. To this end, she will be using her birthday to launch an NGO, Brookfield Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and a book, “50 Keys to a Healthier, Longer and Happier Life”. It could not have come at a better time.
I believe Mrs. Monye is raising a very critical issue that we all ignore at our peril, because the statistics are becoming scary about the rate at which young Nigerians now sleep and do not wake up the next morning. It is now also very common to hear about how people in their forties and fifties slump and die. Yet this phenomenon, called Non Communicable Diseases (NCD) deaths which claim about 40 million people annually across the globe (though most of them in developing countries like Nigeria) are largely preventable. For instance, the NCD Report 2014 states that of the 38 million lives lost to NCDs in 2012, “16 million or 42 percent were premature and avoidable – up from 14.6 million in 2000”.
In January this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that urgent government action was needed to meet global targets to prevent millions of people dying prematurely from heart and lung diseases, stroke, cancer and diabetes. “By investing just US$ 1-3 dollars per person per year, countries can dramatically reduce illness and death from NCDs. In 2015, every country needs to set national targets and implement cost-effective actions. If they do not, millions of lives will continue to be lost too soon,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan.
Premature NCD deaths, according to WHO, can be significantly reduced through government policies that target the reduction of tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, and delivering universal health care. The report calls for more action to curb the epidemic, “particularly in low-and middle-income countries, where deaths due to NCDs are overtaking those from infectious diseases. Almost three quarters of all NCD deaths (28 million), and 82 percent of the 16 million premature deaths, occur in low- and middle-income countries.”
Some of the recommended options by WHO include placing ban on all forms of tobacco and alcohol advertising, promoting breastfeeding, implementing public awareness programmes on diet and physical activity, and preventing cervical cancer through screening.
Going by the WHO Report, it is instructive that many countries have already had success in implementing these interventionist measures. In Turkey, for instance, taxes now make up 80 percent of the total tobacco retail price, and there is currently a total ban on its advertising, promotion and sponsorship nationwide. This has led to a 13.4 relative decline in smoking rates from 2008 to 2012. In Hungary, a law to tax food and drink components with a high risk for health, such as sugar, salt and caffeine has led a situation in which people in the country now consume 25-35 percent less of such products. In Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Canada, Mexico and the United States, the promotion of salt reduction in packaged foods and bread is also yielding results with the compliance by many manufacturers.
What the foregoing says quite clearly is that the health authorities in all countries are now interested in lifestyle habits of their citizens and are taking measures in that direction but Nigeria is yet to wake up to this reality. Unfortunately, NCD deaths, according to WHO, “impede efforts to alleviate poverty and threaten the achievement of international development goals. When people fall sick and die in the prime of their lives, productivity suffers. High rates of death and disease, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, are a reflection of inadequate investment in cost-effective NCD interventions.”
With training in some of the best medical schools in the world and 28-year practice experience, Dr. Monye is deploying her 50th birthday celebration to promote a most worthy cause, by reminding us of the long-held conventional wisdom that prevention is always better than cure. I wish her the long and fulfilling life that she wishes for others in pursuit of her passion for health and wellness in our communities and country.
Olusegun Adeniyi, firstname.lastname@example.org