Ato Afful (right), MD, GCGL, congratulating Prof. Fred Newton Binka (middle), Professor in Clinical Epidemiology, University of Health and Allied Sciences, and Prof. Agyeman-Badu Akosa, former Director-General, GHS, at the Graphic National Development Series in Accra. Picture: ELVIS NII NOI DOWUONA
Ato Afful (right), MD, GCGL, congratulating Prof. Fred Newton Binka (middle), Professor in Clinical Epidemiology, University of Health and Allied Sciences, and Prof. Agyeman-Badu Akosa, former Director-General, GHS, at the Graphic National Development Series in Accra. Picture: ELVIS NII NOI DOWUONA
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Graphic National Development Series: Take charge of your health - Prof. Akosa tells citizenry

Your health is in your own hands, to a large extent. If you want to stay healthy, you can, but if you want to go with the flow, you will get caught by the health system that might not deliver at the time that you need it,” a former Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa, has said.

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He, therefore, entreated Ghanaians to take conscious steps to secure their health by deliberately adopting effective lifestyles as the surest way to prevent dreadful chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension, diabetes and cancers.

Speaking at the maiden Graphic National Development Series (GNDS) in Accra yesterday, the athletic looking 70-year-old pathologist spelt out a number of things to do, including eating more traditional meals as opposed to processed food.

Prof. Akosa also touched on engaging in vigorous physical activities and the need to deal with the poor water quality, decrying the untold damage people have been allowed to do to the environment and the need to deal with air pollution and prevent open air defecation.

His emphasis on healthy living was because a lot of the causes of death in the country were the result of cardiovascular (heart) diseases and their related complications.

Studies

Drawing on some studies, Prof. Akosa said work done on hypertension in the country in 1950 concluded that one to two per cent of the adult population was hypertensive and in 1964, another study in Accra put it at four per cent, explaining that the difference could be explained by rural-urban dynamics.

From 2014, the evidence was that for adult males, hypertension prevalence was between 30 to 45 per cent, and 20 to 30 per cent for females, he added. Prof. Akosa said now, 35-year-old women were getting hypertension against the common knowledge that women did not get hypertensive until they attained age 60 unless during pregnancy, because the female hormone, estrogen, protected them from it.

“So, we sat down and allowed hypertension to move from one per cent in the 1950s to now close to 50 per cent in 2024; an epidemic, and yet where is the help promotion addressing what you need to do to avoid it and if you have it, how to manage it,” Prof. Akosa wondered.

Diabetes

On diabetes, the pathologist who performed 27,356 autopsies between 1990 and 1999 cited Prof. Silas Duodu’s study in 1960 which put diabetes prevalence between 0.2 per cent, while Prof. George Amoah’s study in 2006, showed diabetes prevalence to be 6.4 per cent, with Accra women’s study putting it at 8.6 per cent.

He said the last population study which focused on Accra Civil Servants put diabetes prevalence among them to be 9.1 per cent. “So, we’ve gone from 0.2 per cent to now say 10 per cent. Fifty-fold increase and who is talking about it? Where is the promotive health?”.

Prof. Akosa drew attention to the high-calorie energy drinks which were being consumed across the population, especially by long-haul and inter-city commercial bus (trotro) drivers.

“These energy drinks have seven calories; the drinks have highly dense calorific value, without any nutritional value at all, only dense sugar and caffeine,” he pointed out. Prof. Akosa said those drivers had now made it a standard practice of getting about six of such high calorie drinks which meant they were ingesting a lot of sugar which could lead to acquisition of diabetes easily.

He described it as an epidemic which had increased to the extent that for every two adult males aged 50 or above, one was likely to be hypertensive. The pathologist decried the situation where the nation looked on and allowed dreadful killers to devour the population, describing it as dangerous.

Prof. Akosa said hypertension and diabetes also impacted the health of the kidney, a very important organ in the body that cleared the waste in the system, adding that many a time, the chronic kidney diseases were the results of diabetes and hypertensive complications.

On cancer, he said all the evidence many years ago pointed out that the black population, and for that matter Ghanaians, contracted cancer 10 to 15 years younger than white people and asked why.

“All these diseases I’m talking about can be prevented,” he said. Prof. Akosa also urged people to seek information about the conditions they were suffering as many people did not know their status with regard to the NCDs.

“You don't know your family history, and yet somebody has died and you don't want anybody to find out what caused the death; you don’t want to do an autopsy. So how in the end do you expect to understand and appreciate the diseases that run through families?”

He said the health system was reeling under pressure for which reasson people must take their individual health seriously. “The health system appears to be bursting; It has financial, health personnel, technology data problems, health promotion is not going well, health prevention is not working well, but curative is working but depending on where you are and how much one could pay,” Prof. Akosa emphasised.

Priority

The former Director-General of the GHS called for the prioritisation of the health sector, saying it was not enough for the country to spend about $100 per capita on health care, as against some developed countries which spent about £4,000 per capital on health.

Such prioritisation meant putting the people at the centre of development, stressing that health was not only about the hospitals, but its social determinants.  “I want to say this, the health of the nation is the wealth of the people. So if you prioritise health, then you're developing it and putting your people at the centre of your development agenda,” Prof. Akosa said.

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“And when we talk health, we don't just talk about hospitals and so on and so forth. We talk about the social determinants of health. There are so many other non-health, directly non-health, that impact on the health of the people and will address some of these,” he said.

Agriculture, employment

On agriculture, Prof. Akosa said the country had transitioned from traditional foods such as kontomire, cocoyam, beans and millet to high processed foods such as burger and pizza, among others, which was a cause for concern.

The professor of pathology frowned on the system where a trained healthcare provider, after going through house job, needed clearance from the Ministry of Finance to be engaged.

“And while they are waiting, other countries are beckoning them, and therefore they leave you. So we train doctors, we train nurses, we train pharmacists, we train allied health care professionals, we train all those. Not enough. Even those we train, we don't want to employ. So when there is an opportunity to go now, they will go,” he said.

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Thought leadership

For his part, the Managing Director of the Graphic Communications Group Ltd (GCGL), Ato Afful, said the company had lined up thought leadership programmes to constantly bring the nation together through its daily shared experiences and reporting truthfully and accurately.

He added that the nation deserved balanced, informed ideas for national consensus building, especially as those who did not want to be tagged politically abstained from the discourse.

"Periodically, our country has faced economic and other developmental headwinds. However, in finding solutions, every national construct is invariably framed in a partisan-political cloak that obscures the relevant issues that otherwise require dispassionate treatment. The nation has subsequently been denied the benefits of pooling balanced, informed ideas for national consensus, especially as those who do not want to be politically tagged abstain from the discourse," he posited.  

Ultimately, Mr Afful said the health and wellness of citizens, the base of human capital, was an imperative. “Being therefore minded, the Graphic National Development Series is created to be the go-to platform for both citizens and netizens who have relevant contributions to influence national policy without fear of being tied to the political party,” he said.

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