Non-Communicable Diseases – Did the Obama Visit Forget About the Second Largest Killer in Africa?

August 17, 2015

By Nicholas Ngomi – Research Officer, APHRC

The announcement that the the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) 2015 was to be held in Kenya, the first time ever in sub-Saharan Africa, boosted Kenya’s credentials as a regional leader and investment destination. Of great significance was that the summit was to be officially opened by the most influential and powerful man in the world, the President of the United States of America (POTUS), H.E Barack Hussein Obama. GES 2015 and Obama’s visit brought a breath of fresh air to many. Months turned to days and finally activities in Kenya almost came to a standstill when the first ever Air force one landed on Kenyan soil.

In the lead up to this big day, there were many pre-conferences held and a lot of lobbying going around the continent and most important, Kenya, on what should be the priority on top of GES and Obama’s visit. The Government of Kenya, various ministries, donors, partners, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and individuals all put their best foot forward in preparing a priority list for this very historic moment in Kenya. The overall impact of the summit and Obama’s visit cannot be underestimated and is indisputably huge in many ways.

President Kenyatta himself, youth and women (entrepreneurs or not), high end hotels & meeting venues and young entrepreneurs were big winners for both GES and Obama’s visit. Like every other day, there are losers and the summit and POTUS visit was not an isolation and saw some issues going unattended to.

Amidst the debates that took place at the UN Complex for the summit and the various speeches,  announcements and national addresses made during the visit by POTUS, I remained awake to look at what matters most to me; the health sector. As far as the health sector is concerned I was quick to note that the American government committed to increase funding for the Determined Resilient Empowered Aids free Mentorship Program (DREAM/ACT); a public-private partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nike Foundation which seeks to reduce new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women in up to 10 countries with high HIV prevalence. Kenya happens to be among the beneficiary countries from the largest share of funding for the US-led Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) aimed at reducing HIV morbidity and mortality of infant, children and adolescents living with HIV in Kenya.

However, I was keen to note that little or no attention was given to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). This happened in the backdrop of NCDs quickly rising as the single most cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. According to World Health Organization figures, between 1990 and 2010, disease burden from many non-communicable causes increased, particularly stroke, depression, diabetes, and ischemic heart disease among upper-middle-income countries in the region.

As a researcher concerned with the rising double burden of disease (in addition to the traditional single burden of malnutrition and infectious disease, lifestyle diseases and obesity causing diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and hypercholesterolemia are in the rise) well aware that NCDs account for 27% of deaths equivalent to almost 100,000 people per year in Kenya and World Health Organization (WHO) projecting that  an estimated 28 million people in the Region will die from the same over the next 10 years, I was keen to evaluate the allocation for the fight against not only Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) but also Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

To my disappointment, the closest president Obama came to meeting my expectations was the urge to President Kenyatta to start running with H.E. the first lady and to keep fit. I can’t help but dare ask “did we just miss on a golden opportunity: shouldn’t we have lobbied for a share of the $1.2 trillion and support efforts by the government to halt/stabilize and reverse the rising burden!”

All is not lost: The silver lining is that NCDs remain a priority area for both the Division of NCDs at the Ministry of Health and APHRC as evidenced by a recent launch of the Kenya NCD Info[3] (a one-stop information hub on NCDs for public health practitioners, researchers, health care providers, policymakers and the general public). Health Challenges and Systems program at APHRC has gone beyond Kenyan borders to generate robust evidence on the extent to which and how Multi-Sectoral Approach is (or was) used in the formulation of policies for the implementation of the NCD “Best Buys” in different contexts through the Analysis of Non-communicable Diseases Prevention Policies in Africa (ANPPA) project.