By George Achia

Death cases as a result of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes due to unchecked lifestyle are on the rise, than ever before in Kenya. According to the latest data released by the World Health Organization, Kenya loses 90 people to cancer daily.

In Kenya, approximately 25 per cent of hospital admissions and 13 per cent of deaths are due to NCD, according to data from the division of non-communicable diseases, ministry of health. The rise of NCD is attributed to a combination of factors such as tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet, insufficient physical activity, obesity, raised blood pressure, raised blood sugar and cholesterol.

In attempt to address this worsening scenario, document Kenya National Guidelines for Cardiovascular Diseases Management recommended for use by policy makers, health workers, teaching institutions and those implementing intervention programs on NCDs

“All levels of our healthcare system have responsibility to reduce the burden of NCDs,” says Dr. David Kioko, the director of medical services, during the launch of the guidelines.

To compliment government’s efforts in trying to address the menace, Youth Healthcare Programme(YHP) initiative is working with youths in Kibera to increase their understanding and awareness of risky behaviours that enhance cases on NCDs while at the same time helping improve the youths’ ability to make informed choices and protect their health.

The initiative provides information and resources on the prevention of NCDs and on improving sexual and reproductive health targeted at young people.

“The baseline study conducted at the start of our programme in 2017 found that nearly half of the young people in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, smoked mainly due to peer pressure and 66 per cent drank alcohol. Carbohydrates (mainly chips) were the main source of nutrition for 60 per cent and many reported spending an average of three hours daily idling,” explains Kajwang Danor, the project manager at Plan International, one of the implementing agencies for the programme.

He explains that the programme works with peer educators and local stakeholders such as community leaders, teachers, health service providers and health workers to raise awareness and provide support; to introduce adolescent friendly services in existing health facilities; and to advocate for government policies and services that are responsive to the health risks and rights of young people.

Already, YHP is recording remarkable success in addressing the rise of NCDs among the youths in Kibera.

“Through peer education and mentorship sessions in and out of schools, Young Health Programme has directly reached 48,261 out of 82,940 (58.2%) young people with information on NCDs risk behaviors, gender equality and reproductive health” adds Danor.

He notes that the young people have demonstrated increased understanding of NCDs and their risk factors because majority have either reduced, stopped or are not engaging further in tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy foods and they also engage in various forms of physical exercises,” he says.

Through various events including football tournaments, fun days, school gala, screening camps, and walks, the programme has indirectly reached over 77,000 different community cohorts with information on NCDs risk behaviours and gender equality. These community members continue to raise more awareness, advocate for conducive environment and support young people to adopt healthy lifestyles.

Danor further explains that through capacity building, YHP has trained champion teachers, community leaders, peer educators, volunteers, CHVs, health service providers, youth advocates, among others. These cohorts continue to take lead in the programme’s activities, support peer education and raise more awareness among young people and their peers on NCDs.

Through advocacy and influencing, YHP has supported establishment of Coalition of Youth Advocates – a network of 13 CSOs championing responsive policies and budget allocation for NCDs nationally and in Nairobi County.

“In collaboration with the ministry of health and partners, we have supported development of for Nairobi County and review of School Health Policy and guidelines,” he says.

It is hoped that though such initiatives targeting the youth or young people, efforts towards addressing increased cases of NCDs would be curbed.