Saving youths from menace of tobacco industry interference


Africa, and indeed Nigeria is known for its generally youthful population.

However, data show that these youths are endangered as the tobacco industry has targeted them for their ‘predatory’ tobacco marketing tactics to create profits, thereby breeding a new wave of addiction.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health challenges the world has ever faced, killing more than eight million people around the world every year.

The 2024 WHO Global Report on Trends reveals that children are using e-cigarettes at rates higher than adults in many countries and globally an estimated 37 million youth aged 13 to 15 years use tobacco.

It revealed that 22 countries in the African region are on track to achieve a 30 per cent reduction in tobacco use by 2025. However, it emphasised that progress has been stifled by rising numbers of young tobacco smokers due to tobacco industry influence.

This year, once again, WHO and public health champions from across th
e globe have come together, leveraging the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) celebrated annually on May 31, to raise awareness about the harmful influences of the tobacco industry on youth.

The theme for World No Tobacco Day 2024 is ‘Protecting children from tobacco industry interference’. It emphasises the need to protect future generations and ensure that tobacco consumption continues to reduce.

WHO report titled ‘Hooking the next generation: how the tobacco industry captures young customers’ shockingly revealed that the industry works to reach children and youth to replace customers who quit or die.

According to the report, internal tobacco industry documents, dating as far back as the 1970s, show that tobacco companies have long considered children and youth to be ‘replacement smokers’, ‘pre-smokers’ and a critical market to sustaining their business and the future of their brands.

‘The range of products the industry uses to appeal to youth has expanded significantly, from cigarettes, cigarillos and shisha
to newer products like e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and nicotine pouches.

‘Flavoured products and additives, sleek designs and child-friendly packaging and imagery make addictive products even more appealing to youth.

‘Companies rapidly launch new products that sidestep, or are not included, in current laws, and use every available means to expand their market share before regulations can catch up with them,’ it said.

The health agency revealed that the industry’s tactics include positioning many nicotine products as ‘safer’ than cigarettes, potentially distracting policy-makers and consumers from the fact that nicotine itself is addictive and harmful, particularly to children and youth.

‘For example, e-cigarettes with nicotine are highly addictive and are harmful to health.

‘While long-term health effects are not fully understood, it has been established that they generate toxic substances, some of which are known to cause cancer and some that increase the risk of heart and lung disorders.

‘Us
e of e-cigarettes can also affect brain development, potentially leading to learning and anxiety disorders for young people,’ it said.

The health agency lamented that the tobacco industry was succeeding in its efforts to create a new generation of young people who smoke, vape, suck nicotine pouches or use snuff. It noted that evidence from around the world shows an alarming uptake by children of some products, such as e-cigarettes.

‘History is repeating, as the tobacco industry tries to sell the same nicotine to our children in different packaging.

‘These industries are actively targeting schools, children and young people with new products that are essentially a candy-flavoured trap.

‘How can they talk about harm reduction when they are marketing these dangerous, highly addictive products to children?,’ Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General queried.

During a virtual World No Tobacco Day webinar with Journalists, Mr Caleb Ayong, Executive Director, Vital Voices for Africa (VVA), Togo, said tobacco
infringes upon children’s basic rights to health and welfare, noting that child labour in tobacco production persists in many parts of Africa.

Ayong emphasised that 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals would not be achieved with tobacco industry operations, noting that it portends threats to actualisation of universal health coverage, disease prevention, and mental health promotion.

‘Tobacco industry targets young people with aggressive marketing, investing billions on the advertisement of its products. It organises parties, concerts, and product placements to specifically lure young and impressionable minds to its products and activities,’ he said.

He called for collaboration in shielding children from the clutches of tobacco, empower them with knowledge, and advocate for policies that prioritise their health.

According to him, journalists hold immense power to ignite change, expose industry lies, and inspire action through their reports, urging them to amplify the voices of youths, unmask tobacco
industry’s deception, and create a world where every child breathes freely.

Similarly, Philip Jakpor, Executive Director of Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI), said the media plays a strategic role in exposing the tactics of the tobacco industry through incisive reports to elicit policy level interventions

‘It is the media that must put our governments on their toes to ensure they do not shirk their primary responsibility of protecting our children,’ he said.

According to him, the MPOWER package of WHO focuses on six effective measures to reduce demand for tobacco products.

‘The W denotes the ‘Warn about the dangers of tobacco’, which is a role that the media is tasked with carrying out. The media shapes tobacco-related knowledge, opinions and influences individuals and policy-makers.

‘For signatories to the WHO-Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) mass media anti-tobacco campaigns are key components of their tobacco control programmes,’ he said.

Corroborating Jakpor, Mr Achieng Otieno,
Being Africa, Kenya, explained that the WHO-FCTC was a blueprint for governments to adopt effective tobacco control and assist curb the global tobacco epidemic.

Otieno noted that the goal of the framework was to protect the present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental, and economic consequences of tobacco (and nicotine products) consumption and involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke.

‘The FCTC plays a vital role in promoting and protecting children’s rights concerning tobacco control by advocating for policies and measures to prevent tobacco use initiation, reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, provide access to information and education, and safeguard public health policies from industry interference,’ Otieno said.

Besides, Mohammed Maikuri of Development Gateway, emphasised that the economic burden of smoking, including health expenditures and productivity losses, was estimated at $1.4 trillion annually, with a significant portion of this cost borne by developing countr
ies.

Maikuri said treating diseases caused by tobacco was estimated to have cost Nigeria ?526.4 billion in 2019, which was nearly one tenth of all healthcare costs in the country.

According to him, Development Gateway, in collaboration with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health, supported by the Gates Foundation, leads the DaYTA (Data on Youth Tobacco in Africa) programme, focusing on addressing critical data gaps related to adolescent tobacco use in Nigeria.

He said that the initiative aims to gather comprehensive country-level data on tobacco use among young people aged 10 to 17, thereby filling critical evidence gaps and complementing existing data.

Maikuri, however, said that Nigeria’s performance got worse in a 2021 survey showing that the tobacco industry was intensifying its interference in spite of Nigeria’s tobacco control legislation and efforts.

Commenting, Ms Oluchi Robert, Tobacco Control Advocate, noted that WHO report had shown Nigeria, the world’s seventh most populated country, has bee
n recognised by major transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) as a market with enormous income potential due to its large youth population and expanding GDP.

Robert lamented that the tobacco industry in Nigeria, like in many other countries, targets children and youths through various tactics including product marketing, advertising, flavoured products and accessibility.

‘Tobacco industry covertly engages in product advertisement through product placements in movies, music videos and use of social media to reach the younger audience.

‘According to a 2020 cross-sectional study of school adolescents in Lagos, the most frequently reported channel of exposure was through product placements, with 62 per cent reporting exposure in films, TV, and videos.

‘Up to 15.2 per cent and 12.6 per cent were exposed to tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship (TAPS) through promotional activities and sponsorships, respectively,’ she said.

She faulted the easy accessibility of tobacco products to children and youths,
through stores or online platforms.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalled that the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), worried by the alarming increase in young and underage access to tobacco products, launched the ‘Don’t Burn Their Future’ campaign.

FCCPC said over 4.5 million Nigerians aged 15 and above are tobacco users, with more than 26,800 annual deaths attributed to tobacco-related diseases.

The Commission emphasised that the campaign was a resolute move to safeguard the health and future of Nigerian youth and to curb the detrimental impact of tobacco products on society.

FCCPC underscores the collective responsibility of individuals, communities, and a prioritised healthcare system in fostering a healthier future for the youth.

Contributing, Dr Tunji Akintade, said there was a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.

Akintade urged the government to strengthen its tobacco control policies,
improve awareness and educate the public and policymakers about the devastating health and social consequences of tobacco use.

Experts stressed that tobacco industry interference in health policy was a major reason why youth remain unprotected, or not as protected as they should be.

They urged the government to protect current and future generations and hold tobacco and related industries liable for the harm they cause.

Source: News Agency of Nigeria

CCSI tasks journalists to intensify report on women’s health


The Technical Director of Centre for Communication and Social Impact (CCSI), an NGO, Oluyemi Abodunrin, has called for intensified reporting on women’s health.

Abodunrin made the call at a workshop organised by CCSI in collaboration with Pathfinder Medical and Public Health Sustainable And Advocacy Initiative (PHSAI) in Lagos.

She said the workshop was aimed at training journalists on effective reporting of women’s health issues in Lagos and Kano.

‘Government should partner journalists to facilitate effective reporting on women’s health issues.

‘The government should consider journalists as partners in progress, while journalists should see the government as a veritable source for news information’,

Abodunrin lamented the challenges journalists faced while trying to source adequate information from government personnel , to have a balanced and effective reporting on issues affecting women’s health.

The CCSI Technical Director urged journalists at the workshop to apply knowledge acquired to report more e
ffectively on maternal issues, skilled birth attendant and others issues related to women’s health.

Speaking also, Dr Sakina Bello, the Senior Programme Advisor for Pathfinder Medical, described the advocacy workshop as a ‘bridging gap’ project that would last for 12 month

Bello, who presented an overview on the project titled ‘Strengthening Multilevel Partnerships For Advancing Women’s Health In Nigeria’, said the project aim to tackle issues around antenatal, fertility and delivery issues.

She, however, urged the media to advocate more on women’s health by raising more awareness and do more investigative reporting to hold the government accountable.

‘We want the media to amplify women’s voices by creating a platform for them to share their health issues, challenges and triumph.

‘Amplify female healthcare experts’ voices, researchers and female healthcare advocate voices to ensure diverse perspectives and accurate information dissemination and women empowerment.

‘We hope for healthier women in Lagos an
d Kano States and this short project will hold for one year.

‘We’re working on something that will be long term, but after 12 months, we hope to see that advocacy platforms in Kano and Lagos are strengthen,’ she said.

Dr Victoria Omoera, the Lagos State Ministry of Health Director and Reproductive Health Coordinator, said women ought to be prioritised in government policies, especially in the health sector, for contributing about 50 per cent of the entire population.

Omoera said that women need more empowerment , noting that their needs surpassed the gender role assigned to them.

She identified the major women health concerns to include inadequate healthcare resources, reproductive health issues, heart disease, cancer and mental health issues.

Source: News Agency of Nigeria

Foundation advocates equal support for male survivors of sexual abuse


The Life After Abuse Foundation (LAAF), a Non-governmental Organisation, has called for gender equality in access to support services for male survivors of sexual abuse.

Ms Halima Layeni, the Founder and Executive Director of the Foundation, made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in commemoration of the International Day of the Boy-Child on Thursday in Lagos.

NAN reports that the International Day of the Boy-Child is celebrated annually on May 16 to raise awareness on the importance of health and wellbeing of young boys.

Layeni decried that sexual abuse against boys was more prevalent than before.

She said global statistics revealed that approximately one in six boys worldwide experienced some form of sexual abuse before adulthood.

According to her, these figures likely underestimate the true scope of the problem due to stigma, shame and societal disbelief.

‘One of the most troubling aspects of this crisis is the neglect of sexual abuse against boys.

‘Survivors frequently f
ace scepticism and blame, with their experiences dismissed due to harmful misconceptions.

‘The horrifying reality is that some believe if a boy experiences an erection during abuse, or actively participated in the act, somehow implies consent or enjoyment, perpetuating a culture of silence and shame, leaving survivors feeling isolated and invalidated,’ she said.

She emphasised that abuse perpetrated against boys below the age of consent constitutes rape, regardless of whether they actively participated in the act.

Layeni, who explained that the age of consent varied globally but typically ranges from 16 to 18 years old, stressed that any sexual activity with a child below the age of consent was a violation of their rights and was a criminal offence.

According to her, the long-term effect of sexual abuse on boys are profound, extending beyond immediate trauma.

She said that male survivors of sexual abuse often suffer psychological and emotional challenges, including depression, anxiety, and difficulties i
n forming healthy relationships.

The LAAF Founder added that the impacts of abuse could persist into adulthood, impacting self-esteem, ability to trust others, and overall well-being.

‘It is clear that urgent action is needed to address this crisis and safeguard the rights of the boy child.

‘We must advocate for policies that prioritise the well-being of boys and establish social support centres that offer specialised services exclusive to male survivors of sexual abuse.

‘These centres would provide a nurturing environment for boys to access the care and support needed for recovery.

‘Gender equality in access to support services for male survivors of sexual abuse is a fundamental human right.

‘As we commemorate the International Day of the Boy-Child, let us reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that all individuals, regardless of gender, receive the support and assistance they need to heal and thrive,’ Layeni said.

According to her, it is critical to also acknowledge that women can abuse and rape boys.

She said, ‘No survivor should be overlooked or dismissed based on the gender of their abuser and punishment for female perpetrators of abuse against boys must be enforced and taken seriously, just as it is for male perpetrators.

‘All survivors deserve justice and support, regardless of the gender of their abuser.

‘This equitable approach ensures that survivors are not further victimised by societal biases and that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, irrespective of their gender,’

Layeni said that policy alone was not enough, saying that fellow men and parents also play a crucial role in confronting the crisis of sexual abuse against boys.

According to her, parents should play a crucial role in protecting their sons from abuse by fostering open communication, teaching boundaries and empowering them to speak up.

On the role of the fellow men, Layeni said it’s their responsibility to stand in solidarity with survivors and create a culture of empathy and support.

She said, ‘It is time to pu
t an end to the mockery and derision faced by boys and men who speak up about their experiences as survivors of sexual abuse.’

Source: News Agency of Nigeria

Nurturing Boy-Child to Save the Girl-Child


In most cultures, especially in Africa, preference to the boy-child has strong cultural, religious, legal and of course, social status.

This is principally because a male heir is needed to continue the family line.

The boy-child, faced with many challenges, especially in the 21st century, is often times not properly guided; hence the society tends to be losing him.

The African Charter on the Rights of the Child defines a child as anyone below the age of 18; hence a boy-child is a male offspring below the age of 18 years.

Unlike the boy-child, the girl-child has received massive campaign for her rights and protection, with increasing mainstream attention in public health care from the early 2000s.

While several initiatives to protect the female gender have continued to emerge, those for the male are sparse.

The female-centered initiatives include, inter alia, the International Day of the Girl Child, and UN’s coordinated International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), Cairo in 1994, and the
1995 Beijing Conference that highlighted concerns on women and girls’ empowerment and autonomy.

The initiatives also include laws and regulations against women trafficking and application of criminal laws to under-age sex, child-brides, and sex work

However, it is worthwhile to note that all children are future leaders of tomorrow and custodians of the future.

As such, the first aim of every family and society should be to raise healthy and productive individuals who are physically, psychologically, society and mentally well developed.

Analysts say that neglecting issues affecting the boy-child sets foundation for unbalanced male adult especially as he is the ‘father” of tomorrow, taking charge of families and females who leave their birth families after marriage.

Recognising the importance, the United Nations in 2018, adopted May 16 every year as the International Day of the Boy Child.

It was championed by Dr Jerome Teelucksingh, a university lecturer from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

The day
focuses on boys and their well-being, their needs to feel happy, healthy, and valued within family and community.

Dr Naeem Dalal, Advisor, Non-communicable Diseases, Injuries and Mental Health for Africa CDC, affirmed that boys were not taught to reach out for help; and this had detrimental effects.

‘Men are supposed to be responsible and breadwinners in communities; showing that part of vulnerability is not something that is accepted in our communities across the African continent in general.

‘And not just to stereotype it, but also to be factual that men are also taught not to be reaching out for help growing up as boys and boys are told to be strong and responsible.

‘So, this also causes an issue for men to reach out for mental health services, even when they are there; they may end up committing suicide.

‘These are the challenges we are facing; the boy-child is also human,” he said.

He advocated looking at mental health advocacy for communities, also in the direction of men’s health.

Commenting on
the boy-child, Ms Ifeoma Ibe, a Counsellor, said that boys , in the African setting, were brought up to be macho and it was reiterated in the family, school and church.

‘Some of the prototypes instilled in their minds are that the boy-child is stronger, usually more intelligent and more powerful than girl-child, and therefore, does not need protection as girl-child.

‘He is not expected to express his emotions or any weaknesses; he is to bear things, good or bad, `like a man’.

‘He is taught not to cry but always behave in a brave manner since boy-child is not to display their weakness; they tend to suffer in silence.

‘Society teaches males that they must be in control all the times,” she said.

Mrs Vivian Emejuobi, a Wellness Specialist, advised parents to invest time in training their male children to become responsible adults.

‘If the boy-child is properly groomed and nurtured, there will not be a girl-child abuse.

‘This proper education will encompass how to treat the opposite gender and it will help
to reduce rape and abuse cases in the society.

‘So, the same energy that parents use to bring up the girl-child should be replicated in the upbringing of the boy-child.

‘Massive advocacy and sensitisation is required to educate the boy-child to become better persons in the future,” she said.

A Nigerian author and novelist, Gbenga Sokefun, said that on human trafficking , efforts had been mostly on the girl-child.

According to him, the focus of these efforts has been primarily on female children, trafficked for purposes of prostitution and other forms of indentured servitude.

However, he called on leaders to also concentrate on human trafficking of the boy- child.

Sokefun, the author of a fiction, ‘Adigun’, said that trafficking of the African boy- child had received far less attention, despite the simple fact that it existed.

‘The pressures of poverty and the inherent psychological damage of colonialism have resulted in a brisk trade of young African boys and men under the auspices of narcotics smuggl
ing.

‘The perpetrators have created a pathway for the African male child whose solution to the inadequacies of the continent is escape to the ‘greener’ pastures of the Americas, Europe or anywhere away from the continent of Africa.

‘They prey on the dreams and desires of these gullible children who seek a better life on other continents.

‘These should be tackled,” he said

Lending their voices, some clerics said that bringing up the boy-child properly is a social responsibility that parents cannot delegate to others.

Pastor Chris Nmezi of the Spoken Word Ministry, Ojo Barracks, Lagos, advised parents to conduct themselves in exemplary manners , such that the children would follow same.

He described parents that quarrel and batter each other in the presence of the children as mentally deforming the children.

Nmezi cautioned parents to discard uncomplimentary habits towards others especially their spouses to prevent children from coping habits that would portray them as never do wells.

‘As gatekeepers w
hatever we condole or instill in the heads of the children by our actions or inactions that they will acquire.

‘Any boy that grows up seeing her mother being beaten by his father will see it as a tradition to beat his wife later in life,’ he said.

Sharing similar sentiments, Pastor Gladys Ododo urged parents not to do that which they would not be happy seeing their child indulge in.

Ododo said that parents especially men, indulge in drinking alcohol even around the home but would not like to see their children of school do same.

‘It is hypocritical; if you don’t want them in it, then stop it; children copy with ease what they see parents do than what parents told them.

‘Rising up voice at your spouse at every infraction or detestable conduct is sending wrong signal in the children and people around.

‘If there is need to correct anyone do so courteously without attracting unnecessary attention,’ she said.

As a way to help the boy-child, Mr Gaius Edem, a teacher, urged parents to encourage their boy-chil
d to engage in exercise, extra curriculum activities such as belonging to a positive club.

‘Parents, guardians and educators can encourage the boy-child to join positive clubs in schools or their religious gatherings.

‘It will also help young and growing child to channel their time and energy to meaningful and healthy activities,” he said.

In her input, Mrs Rosita Agomuo, an Educationist and Executive Coordinator of Safe mamahood, agreed that boys had been relegated to the background, as all attentions were on the girl-child.

Agomuo said that the interest of boys should be protected because they are also victims of abuse.

‘These abuses also affect boys psychologically but we do not always hear about it in the media; the focus has always been on the girl-child.

‘I believe CSOs and NGOs need to do more for the boy-child too by focusing on their peculiar needs and challenges to achieve gender equality,’ she said.

All in all, experts of the view that good training of a boy-child will help to achieve a saf
er world for the girls/women and humanity at large.

They say if well nurtured and groomed, the boy-child will conscientiously carry, just like the girl-child, the responsibility of fostering understanding, empathy and equality; thereby making a harmonious world for all. (NANFeatures)

Source: News Agency of Nigeria

Group seeks holistic approach toward addressing determinants of suicide


The Nigeria Suicide Prevention Advocacy Group has called for a holistic approach to prevent and address the determinants of suicide in the country.

Dr Oluwatosin Adekeye, Deputy Director, Clinical Psychology, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, made the call at the 2nd Virtual Meeting of the Group on the topic: ‘Determinants of Suicidality in Nigeria’.

Adekeye called for the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders to addressing the determinants of suicide, saying that effective prevention and intervention of requires a multilayered approach.

He said that the increasing rate of suicide and its corresponding devastating effects made it pertinent for stakeholders including governments, families, policy-makers and organisations to collectively look at the issue with a view to addressing it.

According to him, suicide is a behaviour motivated by the desire to escape unbearable psychological pain.

He identified psychological risk factors of suicide to include bulling, social rejection, quality o
f life and lack of care, saying that sadness, anxiety and hopelessness were the key causative factors of suicide in Nigeria.

Adekeye, who called for increased advocacy on suicide, provision of support through prevention and treatment, emphasised the need for decriminalisation of suicide to pave the way for effective suicide prevention and control in Nigeria.

‘Effective prevention and intervention require a multilayered approach that encompasses community engagement, healthcare service enhancement and robust policy support.

‘Hence, the need for social support system and education of the populace on the psychological determinants of suicide and how to cope with them,’ he said.

Speaking, a Consultant Psychiatrist, Prof. Jibril Abdulmalik, identified gender as a biological risk factor for suicide, saying there was a strong genetic history in connection to suicide.

Abdulmalik, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry, UCH Ibadan, said that men were at higher risk of suicide than women.

According to him, men tend
to commit suicide four times more than women.

Alhaji Abubakar Bichi, a Social Worker at the Federal Medical Centre, Kano, said that poverty and unemployment had become the major economic factors affecting suicidality in Nigeria.

Bichi, also the National President, Association of Medical Social Workers of Nigerian (AMSWON), said the burden of economic pressures such as debt, inability to meet daily needs and uncertainty about future could lead to increased level of stress and anxiety, leading to suicide.

He decried that mental health services were barely available in the rural communities, as the country only have six Federal Psychiatric hospitals basically located at the urban cities.

‘Mental Health, though, might be a long term health condition, is treatable that an individual with the condition can live a normal life.

‘Unfortunately, in many Nigeria communities, mental health issues are often stigmatised and perceived as sign of weakness.

‘The social and economic determinants are the major causative f
actors of mental health conditions and suicide in Nigeria, hence the need to address them.

‘The Government should implement mental health policies and laws and provide the enabling environment for the citizens to be meaningfully engaged.

‘Let there be more job opportunities so that people will gainfully be employed and the basic amenities be made available,’ Bichi said.

Prof. Ibrahim Wakawa, Medical Director, Federal Neuro-psychiatric Hospital Maiduguri, said there was need for a public pronouncement by the Federal Ministry of Health that suicide has became a public health pandemic.

According to him, there is need for proper control and monitoring of the means of access to suicide like snipper, by the relevant authorities.

He noted that poverty alleviation needed to be really considered a priority if significant achievement would be made in prevention of suicide in Nigeria.

Earlier, Prof. Taiwo Sheikh, the Group Coordinator, said that mental health, including determinants of suicide, affect millions of
people across Africa, adding that stigma and cultural misconceptions often compound these issues.

In his welcome speech, Sheikh, also a consultant psychiatrist, said that insufficient public spending on mental health and suicide prevention was a major barrier to providing assistance to those in need.

According to him, effective suicide prevention can only take place through a whole-of-society approach that involves the government, civil society organisations and community leaders.

Source: News Agency of Nigeria

Beating non-communicable diseases to safeguard African children


Emeka Ahanonu and Ugo Alilionwu are from the same family. Following frequent hospital admissions in early childhood, they were later diagnosed with sickle cell disease.

Their family, living in a village in the eastern part of Nigeria, did as much as they could to manage their condition.

With time, cost of medication and care became burdensome for the poor family, coupled with the rising cost of living.

Meeting up with medications, hospital appointments, adequate nutrition and observing other conditions necessary to manage the condition became tougher.

Sadly, Ahanonu and Alilionwu passed on within an interval of about four years, at the ages of 11 and 14, respectively.

In a related development, Chisom Chukwuneke, 17, who was the best candidate in the 2019 West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination in her school, died after a battle with blood cancer.

At her demise, her father, Mr Felix Chukwuneke, wrote, ‘As restless and worried as I can be, I promised to do everything humanly possible. We wen
t to South Africa. We were happy at your initial recovery, not knowing the war was just to begin.’

Young Chukwuneke died in 2020.

Again, Onome Eka’s family got to know she had Type 1 Diabetes when was 12 years old.

Keeping up with her treatment with insulin was an ordeal. It was expensive. Payment was out of the pocket. Getting needed treatment as and when due was difficult. Thus, Eka passed away some months later.

However, Akida Abdul, 10, and Emmanuel Anga,15, of Kondoa District in Tanzania have been able to live with SCD and Type 1 Diabetes respectively, having access to a PEN-Plus clinic in their community.

In spite of their families’ lack of funds for their treatments, the clinic has been able to bridge the gaps in financing, accessibility and other issues that could have limited them from having access to care.

The World Health Organization (WHO) approach to addressing severe Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) through an integrated outpatient service at first-level hospitals is called integrated PEN
-Plus (package of essential interventions for severe NCDs).

It aims to mitigate the burden of severe NCDs among the poorest children and young adults by increasing accessibility particularly in low and middle-income countries.

On Aug. 23, 2022, the 47 member-states of the WHO/Afro region voted to adopt PEN-Plus strategy to address severe NCDs at first-level referral facilities.

According to WHO, NCDs such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, are increasingly becoming the main cause of mortality in sub-Saharan Africa.

NCDs, also known as chronic diseases, are non-transmissible diseases of often long duration. Examples of NCDs include mental health conditions, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, sickle cell disorder, and chronic lung disease.

They are driven largely by behaviours that usually start during childhood and adolescence. Such behaviours include physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol.

However, sometimes, they are genetic or congenital.

The d
iseases are accountable for 37 per cent of deaths in 2019, rising from 24 per cent in 2000 largely due to weaknesses in the implementation of critical control measures including prevention, diagnosis and care.

In Africa, between 50 per cent and 88 per cent of deaths in seven countries, mostly small island nations, are due to non-communicable diseases, according to the 2022 World Health WHO NCDs Progress Monitor.

Globally, it is estimated that one in two disability-affected lives and one in five deaths among adolescents are caused by NCDs.

In the Africa, the number of people living with diabetes, for example, is expected to reach 47 million by 2045, up from 19 million in 2019.

‘The growing burden of NCDs poses a grave threat to the health and lives of millions of people in Africa: over a third of deaths in the region are due to these illnesses.

‘What is particularly concerning is that premature deaths from non-communicable diseases are rising among people younger than 70 years,’ said Dr Matshidiso Moeti,
WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Highlighting the gravity of the situation, Moeti, who joined the International Conference on PEN-Plus in Africa (ICPPA2024) virtually, said it was time to prioritise person-centred approach to NCDs.

The four-day conference, from April 23 to April 25, 2024, had the theme, ‘Prioritising Person-Centered Approach to Chronic and Severe NCDs – Type 1 Diabetes, Sickle Cell Diseases, and Childhood Heart Diseases.’

It was hosted by the Tanzania Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization African Region (WHO-Afro), in partnership with the HELMSLEY Charitable Trust and NCDI Poverty Network.

The meeting centred around inequitable access to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care, seeking commitment to advocate increased focus on chronic and severe non-communicable diseases within existing healthcare delivery systems.

Moeti said: ‘The surge in the number of NCDs on our continent over the past two decades is driven by increasing incidences of risk factors, such as u
nhealthy diets, reduced mental activity, obesity, and air pollution.’

She urged African governments to step up efforts and embrace the PEN-Plus initiative to ensure that targets would be met.

‘Severe NCDs such as Type 1 Diabetes, rheumatic heart disease and sickle cell disease, more frequently affect children and young adults, the majority of Africa’s population.

‘Africa must invest more now in addressing NCDs with adequate and sustained resources.

‘We are continuing to invest in reducing the high burden of premature mortality from chronic and severe disease within the context of Universal Health Coverage.

‘Despite our member-states’ efforts, we have a huge challenge in NCDS in Africa,’ she said.

According to the official, data from low-income countries shows that 26 per cent of total health spending is due to NCDs, second only to infectious and parasitic diseases.

‘This means it is urgent to give these often-neglected diseases the priority and attention they deserve.”

She said that the rapid evoluti
on with a higher mortality rate had not been adequately recognised because of inadequate investment and lack of diligence in knowing the diseases.

Also, Elke Wisch, UNICEF Representative in Tanzania, who represented the UN Resident Coordinator in Tanzania, noted that children had become at great risk of NCDs.

‘Beyond the general picture of NCDs, we also have severe conditions that pose acute stages in individuals affected by these conditions.

‘Diseases such as sickle cell anemia, rheumatic heart diseases and Type 1 Diabetes do not only affect adults but also impact children and adolescents in significant numbers here, in Tanzania, and other countries in Africa.”

Wisch said that the diseases, if not priority attention, would remain a cause of mortality in children and adolescents.

‘The United Nations system is consciously aware of the profound impact that NCDs have on individuals, families and entire societies and nations.

‘These diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer diabetes and chronic r
espiratory diseases, pose significant challenges to our healthcare systems and the well-being of our countries.’

Recognising the gravity of the consequences of not addressing NCDs, especially for children and adolescents, Mr James Reid of Helmsley Charitable Trust, suggested ways to address the situation.

He advised that all efforts and investments in addressing NCDs should be focused on integrating NCD care seamlessly into existing health systems.

‘The key to achieving UHC lies in expanding primary healthcare, especially in low-resource and humanitarian settings.

‘Collaborative, cross-sector strategies, innovative investments and a focus on integrating NCD care into existing health systems are all keys to achieving health for all,” he said.

He said that successful models such as PEN-Plus had demonstrated the effectiveness of empowering nurses and mid-level providers to integrate NCD care into the ongoing continuum of primary healthcare.

Through the PEN-Plus initiative, governments in the African regio
n are working on strengthening preventive measures, promoting healthy lifestyles and ensuring access to quality healthcare services at the primary healthcare levels where many people seek healthcare services.

Also, SDG 3.4 calls for all member-states to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by one-third in 2030 through prevention, treatment and promoting mental health and well-being.

However, a number of low- and middle-income countries are not on track to actualising SDG target 3.4 to reduce NCD mortality.

From the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the same indices resonate, with NCDs and other conditions rising and threatening the continent’s vision of achieving and building an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens.

However, as highlighted in the AU Agenda 2063, addressing the menace will also involve addressing these conditions with a multi-faceted approach.

Dr Mohammed Abdulaziz, Head, Division of Disease Control and Prevention, Africa CDC, af
firmed that a multi-faceted and integrated approach to solving some of the major health system obstacles in the delivery of NCDs Treatment and Prevention and Control Plan, was needed.

‘Our approach must prioritise the individual and families impacted by NCDs.

‘We must ensure equitable access to essential medicines and services for everyone for everyone.”

According to him, as agreed by the AU heads of state, there is need to set up a pool procurement mechanism to strengthen and see if this will help in getting essential medication and access to health products for these high-burden diseases.

Also, he stressed the need for the integration of data which should be collected nationally, through surveillance.

Achieving these goals, he said, also required bridging the funding gap for Africa for the NCDs programmes across the continent.

‘We have no choice but to also push for domestic finance. We know that very few of our countries are reaching the 15 per cent mark budget for health, the Abuja declaration.

‘I
f we can show to all what we are doing, that our government should, in putting more funding into health, put more in the area of NCDs, it will be good to help us reach that target”.

In conclusion, the path ahead toward addressing NCDS requires collaboration, communication, innovation and a human-centred approach.

There is need for increased investment toward prevention, research and care for childhood NCDs, with access to equitable care and support given priority attention, leaving no one behind.

These can be achieved when governments and leaderships are committed to stepping up efforts and embracing initiatives such as the PEN-Plus initiative, to ensure that targets are met.

In so doing, aside adults, African children and adolescents can hope for a brighter future without the scare of living with or sliding into eternity with NCDS, when it could have been prevented or optimally-managed.

At present, 20 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are at various stages of initiating, implementing or scaling up PEN-Pl
us.

It is estimated that no fewer than 10,000 people are receiving treatment for severe NCDs in PEN-Plus Clinics across 11 Sub-Saharan countries.

By 2030, the WHO’s goal is for 70 per cent of African region member-tates to have national plans for integrated care, NCD training for health workers, and essential medicines in district hospitals.

Source: News Agency of Nigeria