Africa must tackle smoking and obesity

August 10, 2016

While smoking levels are stagnating in the Western world, in Africa, the numbers are skyrocketing day and night.Women are now the fastest growing number of new smokers in the continent with men proportion falling according to the latest confidential tobacco consumption research conducted by local and international health researchers.The research whose copy i have, proves that Africans have learnt nothing about health challenges that affected Western world for decades due to smoking and as they say, ignorance is opposite of education.Various African countries have been working to overhaul their health sectors, most notably through reforms, which are the most urgent and long overdue.That work is ongoing and showing strong early signs of success in countries like Kenya and Nigeria, but there is another critical piece of the puzzle that African countries must also address.This is what experts call preventative health, how individuals, communities and government work together to ensure people stay healthier for longer.The challenge is significant and real, with South Africa having high rates of chronic disease and risk factors.Although South Africa’s smoking rates have been decreasing, the country still have the second highest rate of daily smokers in Africa at 29 per cent.Also worryingly, South Africans are getting fatter. The prevalence of overweight and obesity among adult South Africans continues to rise, up 71 per cent in January 2016. This has led to significant costs to the country’s health budget, but it also undermines social wellbeing and economic development in the state.

As African community, countries should not continue to accept this when as a continent, Africa is blessed with some of the cleanest air, purest water, best fresh produce and plenty of opportunity to be active in their unmatched outdoors. That is why several administrations that were voted to office recently came with a goal to make their population among the healthiest population, supported by a new preventative health strategy.There are ongoing positives where strategic plan funds in preventative health, on top of what countries already spend on health-related programs across continent is increasing.In Kenya, the plan targets smoking and obesity rates as its top priorities. Smoking remains one of the most serious health challenges Kenya face as a society.As a government, it is important for it to lead debate on bold new options to reduce smoking rates. That was exactly the goal when Kenya floated the idea of raising the smoking age for public consultation, and it certainly did generate a good deal of interest and feedback.In Tanzania, the government has considered all the evidence and community feedback on that concept and, on balance, came to the view that it is not the best policy response at this time. Nonetheless, Tanzania’s plan sets out a strong anti-smoking agenda. In Nigeria, the country is expected to invest heavily to tighten smoking control, increase education, and focus on targeted interventions.

In Ghana, the country has set ambitious targets to reduce the number of people smoking, particularly young people. In Zambia, those under the age of 25, the government target is to halve the smoking rates by 2020. For all Zambians, the Lusaka administration aim to have smoking rates lower than the African average by 2025.In Uganda, plans are afoot by some legislators where businesses selling tobacco will see an increase in their licence fees, which will be phased in over three years to allow time to plan for and adjust to the change.With regard to obesity, I know that African countries have to focus on future generations and that is the children.The focus should be on more physical activity and better nutrition across the school environment, including having school canteens accredited to provide healthier food.Further initiatives should include growing a school garden and breakfast clubs. At its heart, such plan will be about proactive African people who want to be healthier and the local communities they belong to.Governments need to made it clear they will not simply push more of the same sort of government-centred programs that have not worked. Me thinks in supporting local communities and grassroots champions can lead to own positive change.This is opportune time for Africa’s community-government partnership to be a critical part of the solution, supporting grassroots health initiatives with community innovation grants pool.Such approaches are designed to give people the information and tools they need to succeed with the positive, healthy changes in their lives they desire.This will foster genuine community connectedness, bringing Africans together to support each other towards better health.

Contador Harrison