Hypertension, diabetes advocates hubs
“My wife and children! I don’t want to leave them alone in this cruel world”.
The brawny, young man, whose date of birth suggested he had only celebrated his 34th birthday the week prior, sobbed with a slurred speech amidst struggles to breathe.
He was bedridden with a stroke and heart failure.
His sobs tore at my heartstrings.
His story was familiar.
His blood pressure (BP) was consistently high during a health screening organised by a church two years ago.
Although the doctor prescribed some medication, a colleague driver advised him not to take them, so he resorted to herbal medication.
A busy work schedule also precluded him from visiting the hospital.
A garden-variety true story that sums up the obstacles in our fight against Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension and diabetes.
According to the WHO, about five in 10 Africans (46%) 25 years and older have hypertension.
About half of the people with hypertension are unaware of their condition, because it is a silent killer.
It is estimated that 24 million adults (20-79) are living with diabetes in Africa.
This is extrapolated to increase to 33 million by 2030 and 55 million by 2045.
Many health policies, education and screening programmes have been instituted over the years, but disease burden continues to be on the ascendancy.
Follow up after diagnosis is a challenge and drug adherence is not guaranteed, partly and significantly because of misinformation on the side effects of drugs and false promises of complete cure by quacks.
Why are these laudable programmes failing at curbing this double menace of hypertension and diabetes?
On-Field Life Savers (OFIS), a non-profit working to reduce the burden of NCDs in Africa, believes it is because individuals for whom these programmes are designed are not actively involved in the process.
Recognising this challenge, OFIS has rolled out an initiative called Hypertension And Diabetes Advocates (HADA) Hubs.
What are HADA Hubs?
A HADA Hub is a community-based approach to tackling NCDs by which individuals, who meet regularly as part of an already existent social group (e.g churches, mosques, driver unions, “parliaments”etc) are trained and empowered to become Hypertension and Diabetes Advocates, while making healthy living a habit.
HADA Hubs generally have seven components:
• A social group whose members are trained to measure their own BPs and blood sugars, and interpret values as normal/abnormal.
They are also trained to become advocates, educating others, especially on drug adherence and healthy living.
• A health representative from among them who reports consistently abnormal values of members to OFIS for management.
• A BP and sugar monitoring record’s book.
• A sphygmomanometer and/or glucometer donated to the group which is always available to them.
The presence of the equipment within their setting becomes a cue that encourages the habit of regularly checking andknowing their numbers.
• A HADA oath, pasted at location of meetings for members to see and recite on a regular basis.
The oath is a list of practical, healthy lifestyle habits that has been translated into Gurune and is being translated into all the major dialects in Ghana.
• A medical volunteer who visits members monthly to address abnormal values, side effects of any medications started and reinforce the message of healthy living and medication adherence.
Individuals who prefer herbal medications are referred to the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine whose medications have gone through the requisite trials to be considered safe and effective.
• Organisations, individuals etc that are willing to adopt these Hubs and provide sphygmomanometers, Glucometers etc.
We are also working on a centralized database where BP and sugar records can be sent, stored, and accessed to inform policies and make referrals to nearby health facilities.
OFIS has successfully set up three of such Hubs across Ghana among drivers, a church and cooking staff of PRESEC-LEGON.
We believe empowering lay people with the message of healthy living and taking health care to their workplaces is the way forward in dealing with the leading causes of death and suffering globally.
At OFIS, the mission is to reduce the burden of Hypertension and Diabetes in Africa, one HADA Hub at a time.
The writer is founder, On-Field Life Savers (OFIS), Radio Host, Odadee Health Matters.