Why Africa’s healthy life expectancy rose in two decades, by WHO

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Nigeria, AstraZeneca move against hypertension, cardiovascular diseases

World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, offered explanation why healthy life expectancy in the African region increased on average by 10 years per person between 2000 and 2019.

According to the global agency’s assessment report released during a virtual press conference, the rise beats other regions of the world in the period under review.

It warned that the disruptive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could threaten these huge gains.

The Tracking Universal Health Coverage in the WHO African Region 2022 data showed that healthy life expectancy – or the number of years an individual is in a good state of health – increased to 56 years in 2019 compared with 46 in 2000. Though still below the global average of 64 over the period, as the world’s increased by only five years.

Presided over by Assistant Director, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Lindiwe Makubalo, the briefing was attended by Julio Frenk; Professor at the Practice of Public Health Leadership, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Muhammad Ali Pate and Director of Planning, Ministry of Health, Botswana, Moses Kitele.

Also in attendance from WHO Regional Office for Africa are Senior Technical Officer, Health Systems Development, Dr Humphrey Karamagi; Vaccines Introduction Medical Officer, Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe; Health Emergency Officer, Dr. Patrick Otim and Technical Officer, Opeayo Ogundiran.

The report listed the factors that aided the elongated lifespan to include: improved essential health services; reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health and the fight against infectious diseases.

It equally acknowledged the rapid scale-up of Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), tuberculosis and malaria control measures from 2005.

On average, WHO said essential health service coverage rose to 46 per cent in 2019 as against the 24 per cent tally of 2000. It said the most significant achievements were in preventing and treating infectious diseases, but this was offset by the dramatic rise in hypertension, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases and the lack of health services targeting these diseases.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said: “The sharp rise in healthy life expectancy during the past two decades is a testament to the region’s drive for improved health and well-being of the population. At its core, it means that more people are living healthier, longer lives, with fewer threats of infectious diseases and with better access to care and disease prevention services.

“But the progress must not stall. Unless countries enhance measures against the threat of cancer and other non-communicable diseases, the health gains could be jeopardised.”

To enhance health services, the document stressed the urgent need for governments to step up public health financing. Most administrations in Africa fund less than 50 per cent of their national health budgets, resulting in huge deficits.

Only Algeria, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Eswatini, Gabon, Seychelles and South Africa fund more than 50 per cent of their national health budgets.

In a related development, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and Population Services International (PSI) Nigeria, in partnership with AstraZeneca, have launched the Healthy Heart Africa (HHA) programme.

   

AstraZeneca’s initiative is to tackle hypertension (high blood pressure) and the increasing burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in Africa.

   

With the launch, Nigeria became the ninth country of programme implementation on the continent since 2014. Others are Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Rwanda.

   

Executed by PSI Nigeria, the programme is to be implemented in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and 17 states, including Adamawa; Anambra; Akwa Ibom; Bauchi; Delta and Enugu.

Others are Gombe; Imo; Jigawa; Kebbi; Kwara; Nasarawa; Ondo; Osun; Oyo; Rivers and Sokoto states.

     

A systematic review and multi-study data analysis of NCDs and risk factors conducted in 2018 found that nearly one-third of Nigerians are hypertensive.

   

Other studies reveal that more than half of people with the disease are unaware. 

     

Speaking at the event, yesterday, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, observed: “The ministry has the vision to reduce the burden of NCDs in Nigeria and to strengthen the health system for the delivery of equitable services through the Essential Package of Health Services (EPHS).

 

“To achieve this, we acknowledge partnerships as one of our strategic focus areas. 

“The HHA programme will contribute to attaining our objective of orienting the health system towards addressing prevention and control of NCDs at all levels of care, and by integrating them into our primary healthcare system.  It will also play a role in evaluating the prevalence of NCDs through data recording.”

Vice President, Global Sustainability and Access to Healthcare, at AstraZeneca, Ashling Mulvaney, noted: “In the face of a growing hypertension burden, I would like to commend the steps that the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency have taken to tackle the burden of the disease in Nigeria, such as establishing the National Multisectoral Action Plan (NMSAP) for the Prevention of NCDs. We are pleased to launch the Healthy Heart Africa programme in Nigeria in partnership with the Federal Government, NPHCDA and our implementing partner, Population Services International (PSI).

   

The programme will contribute to strengthening the healthcare system by screening for hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, at the primary healthcare level. HHA will also contribute to a sustainable healthcare system by training healthcare providers on hypertension screening, treatment and management, as well as supporting implementing facilities with screening equipment and promoting education and awareness activities in the community.

    

In his remarks, NPHCDA’s Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, stated: “We welcome the Healthy Heart Africa programme’s expansion to Nigeria because it contributes to our ongoing efforts of expanding and enhancing primary healthcare and universal health coverage at a time we are reimagining the PHC landscape.”

   

Chief of Party, PSI Nigeria, Dr. Fatima Bunza said: “We are committed to improving primary healthcare, by providing tailored solutions to the communities where we operate. Through HHA, we look forward to implementing a collaborative approach to improve hypertension healthcare in Nigeria. By integrating the programme into the primary healthcare system, we are positioned to reach more people and detect high blood pressure before it becomes life-threatening.”

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