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Combating chronic diseases through routine medical investigation, accurate diagnosis

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Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire

With the burden of chronic diseases expected to increase to 57 percent by 2020, as stated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the need for routine medical investigation and early diagnosis to address the scourge in Nigeria has been emphasised by laboratory scientists.

According to WHO, 60 percent of the burden of chronic diseases will occur in developing countries, including Nigeria.

Also, the Milken Institute disclosed that there would be 230 million reported cases of chronic disease in 2023, an increase of 42 per cent from 2003, noting that cases of cancer, diabetes, and mental disorders are expected to rise most substantially, by 53 to 60 percent per illness.

Chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, are the leading cause of mortality in the world.

WHO report showed that over 5.5 million people died from chronic diseases in the last 10 years, and is expected to account for almost three-quarters of all deaths worldwide by 2020.

It further estimated that in developing countries, ischaemic heart disease (IHD) would account for 71 per cent of deaths; stroke 75 per cent deaths and 70 per cent of deaths will be due to diabetes.

Worried by the trend, the Chairman, ECHOLAB Radiology and Laboratory Services, Dr. Benson Ayodele Cole, who spoke to The Guardian, said non-communicable diseases are becoming more problematic today than the communicable diseases.

He said diseases like cancer, diabetes, and hypertension run on the long or short course, noting that if undetected, have a devastating effect on humans and the economy of the country.

Cole noted that Nigeria is contributing a large percentage to the African prevalence rate of chronic diseases, which he said are largely hereditary.

Also, listing the factors contributing to the prevalence of these diseases, the Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Abimbola Jimoh, noted infrastructural decay, human errors, lack of funds and inaccurate diagnosis.

“We have good professionals, but we don’t have the equipment to do the work. The economy is not helping as regards changing the narrative. Even these days, health tourism is not that vibrant due to the recession.

“Also, people don’t have trust in our system. You will rather go to a hospital with a track record, which most Nigerian hospitals don’t have. For instance, renal disease has trends that should have been picked up earlier, but due to lack of money, people are not able to access medical facilities for diagnosis.

She continued: “People are still feeling the brunt of the recession. We don’t have an all-encompassing healthcare policy. Where people don’t have insurance – most of the time healthcare expenses are paid out of pocket or companies have to bear this for the employees. Most of the time, HMOs don’t go beyond the basics because of cost. At the end of the day, you see people presenting advanced diseases.

“Another major cause is that our healthcare-seeking behavior is tied to finances and the economy. There are also other factors like being careless about the things we eat and having fast-paced life. We have a lot of fast foods with preservatives and these increase the chances of diseases.”

Speaking on how critical early and accurate disease diagnosis is to healthcare delivery, Cole said: “Early diagnosis comes in a way of prompt diagnosis to know when the cancer is just budding. For instance, at an early stage, someone who has a family history of diabetes can be spotted on time so that the individual can ensure lifestyle modification.

“Today, you discover that the non-communicable diseases are largely hereditary. Therefore, if an individual has a family history of breast cancer for instance, there’s the BRCA gene test that you can do, which will tell the percentage probability of coming down with the disease.

“That’s why in our business we ensure we carry on this campaign to encourage people to check themselves out early enough. Routine medical investigation is key, such that diseases are picked out early and addressed quickly so the individual can have a good quality of life rather than allow complications.”

On solving human errors, Cole said: “We are not saying artificial intelligence should take up the whole process. There will still be that human knowledge coming into play, but to a large extent you remove human error and interference.

“So we are leveraging technology in that aspect. We have not gotten to that point where all our processes are fully automated here, but that’s actually where we are going. So at the summit of that ten-year business plan, we will be replicating the sort of practice available in Cairo where you have a mega reference lab that is hundred percent automated.”

On measures to ensure Nigeria achieves the Universal Health Coverage, Abimbola said: “The fact is that the disposable income of an average Nigerian is disturbing. Not too long ago, statistics showed the middle class was rising, but poverty level has truncated the progression. People have very little to spend on health.

“From our own perspective, our services are available to all demographics; from the high and mighty to the man on the street. Our services are affordable across board. You can walk into any of our facilities and you will be shocked that despite all the technology we have deployed, our services are affordable.”

Speaking on partnership with the Integrated Diagnostic Holdings, Cole said: “We found that we were having teaching hospitals that could not diagnose their patients effectively. Therefore we went into diagnostic medicine in order to bridge that gap. Having gone in there, we discovered that we don’t have the human and financial resources to provide what Nigeria needed holistically in diagnostic medicine.”

“The partnership was to bring that sort of capacity to bear on our business so we can serve Nigerians better. With this, people don’t need to travel as we often do. You hear about medical tourism; how people go out of the country to get something as simple as medical diagnosis.”


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