Infectious diseases like Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), Lassa fever and the new rave in town – Zika Virus Disease – have always managed to get adequate media attention, while non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cancers have seldom received the deserved media attention.
Perhaps the reason for the media’s interest in the infectious diseases is that, most times, these diseases are not just highly contagious and capable of spreading like bush fire, but they are also usually difficult to diagnose and treat.
For some of them, prevention is the only way to go as there are no drugs for curing them. In a nutshell, the media frenzy over these infectious diseases is often driven by fear due to the fact that they are highly contagious and potentially fatal.
However, while the media should be commended for the yeoman service they render whenever there is an outbreak of infectious diseases, health journalists must equally be encouraged to beam more searchlight on non-communicable diseases because these conditions are resulting in more deaths than the infectious ones.
For instance, the total number of Nigerians that died from the dreaded Ebola disease outbreak in Nigeria in 2014 was seven, out of the 19 confirmed cases. While the fatality rate was clearly reduced by the proactive way the media and the Nigerian nation reacted once the outbreak reached our shores. This figure of the total number of people that died as a result of Ebola is still low when compared to the number that died within the same period from diabetes, hypertension, or cancer.
In the last one year, two people I know have died from NCDs – one from diabetes and the other from complications arising from kidney failure. I have spoken to a number of people and I realised that virtually everybody knows somebody who has just died from or is down with one of the NCDs.
The implication of this is that NCDs are quite prevalent in the country and should be getting as much attention, if not more attention than even the infectious diseases.
This is why I must commend the initiative of Roche for its Health Journalists Academy. Since the academy debuted, Roche has been facilitating the interactions of the journalists in the academy with clinicians and experts working on NCDs to help deepen the journalists’ knowledge of current issues concerning these diseases.
I recently attended a breakfast meeting organised by Roche for the health journalists, held at Novartis office in Victoria Island, Lagos, and I must say that the meeting was quite beneficial, not just because of the educative lectures on hypertension and diabetes but because it reinforced my belief that it is becoming increasingly important to mobilise health journalists for the onerous task of taming NCDs in this clime.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, worldwide prevalence of diabetes is high and is expected to increase to 592 million in approximately 20 years. The disease currently affects 246 million people worldwide, while the prevalence rate is five per cent of Nigeria’s current population. This is huge, considering that Nigeria has about 170 million people. Hypertension, cancer and other NCDs are also becoming more prevalent in Nigeria.
The fact is that health journalists must see the enormity of the challenge at hand to convince them to then become advocates against these diseases that are preventable, easily diagnosed and can be properly managed/treated, yet are killing thousands of Nigerians yearly.
Speaking with health journalists at the breakfast meeting, Dr Chinwe Adebiyi, a medical advisor for Novartis, said it is important for Nigerians to be more health conscious. She disclosed that based on a report, Dr Jibrin Suleiman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria’s Medical Centre in Mecca, said 19 Nigerian pilgrims died of heart diseases, hypertension, diabetes and other related ailments during the last Hajj exercise.
Perhaps, because many Nigerians died as a result of stampede during the Hajj, less attention was paid to those who died from NCDs during the period – just another example of how these conditions don’t get the media attention they deserve.
A lot can and indeed should be done to sensitise Nigerians on ways to prevent and manage NCDs, and health journalists must be at the vanguard of this campaign.