By JOWIT SALUSEKI-
ZAMBIA has of late witnessed an increase in the number of young people suffering and dying from kidney, heart, liver and cancer-related complications.
Medical experts say referral hospitals such as Lusaka’s University Teaching Hospitals (UTH), Ndola Teaching Hospital (NTH) and Kitwe Teaching Hospital (KTH), among others, are always inundated with patients under the age of 50 years seeking medical attention.
Health officials explain that the disease burden is in part driven by the adoption of western lifestyles, changes in the built environment and rapid urbanisation, among others.
The country like many African countries is currently undergoing rapid epidemiological transitions and is confronted with the double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
This dual burden has led to a consequential rise in the number of people affected by kidney, heart, liver and cancer-related diseases.
Those who are diagnosed may not have access to treatment and may not be able to successfully control their illness over time.
For kidney patients, the cost of dialysis and meeting other medical expenses in Zambia is way beyond what most ordinary citizens can afford.
On the other hand, those battling heart and liver-related complications have to access drugs at exorbitant prices either from private hospitals or pharmacies.
Still, others who can’t access the services locally are referred to hospitals abroad.
As if that was not a burden enough, it is currently estimated that 34.8 per cent of the adult population of 18-69 years in Zambia are living with hypertension.
Zambia is ranked 42nd with a liver disease death rate per 100,000 of 26.02 in the world, and 22nd in Africa.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) data published in 2018 kidney disease deaths in Zambia reached 752 or 0.68 per cent of total deaths.
The age-adjusted death rate is 10.72 per 100,000 population ranking Zambia at 126 in the world.
Similarly, according to a Zambia National Public health Institute report, in 2016, hypertension accounted for 3.3 per cent of all deaths in Zambia.
Internal medicine expert Aaron Mujajati says most NCDs are caused by risk factors which include unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol, lack of physical activity, excess weight, foodstuffs and stress.
“For instance, diet has been identified as one of the major contributing factors to hypertension in Zambia,” said Dr Mujajati, who is a renowned physician.
Research has shown that excess consumption of sodium is associated with an increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
The 2017 Steps Survey shows that Zambians consume an average of 9.5 grammes of sodium/salt per day.
This is nearly double the WHO recommended limit of five grammes per day.
Reducing sodium intake has been identified as one of the most cost-effective measures countries can take to lessen the incidence of hypertension and improve health outcomes in hypertensive patients, yet Zambia is one of the countries that has no strategy for regulating sodium intake.
The only way the country can reduce the disease burden is by investing in a cadre of specialists’ doctors as well as having a number of specialised hospitals.