Last week, 21 African first ladies and representatives congregated in Kenya to discuss cancer in the 9th Stop Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancer conference. The conference which was attended by an estimated 4000 local and international delegates looked at the role of public and private sector partnerships in the fight against cancer.

Why do professionals in the health sector abuse alcohol? Why are they overweight despite the fact that they are on the forefront of lifestyle change campaigns? These are some of the questions that arose opening discussions on whose responsibility the health of a country’s citizens is: of course the Ministry of Health, you’d think. Well, apparently not.

Figuratively, the Ministry of Health is at the center of the field, running around chasing the ball, only to get depleted of energy (read resources), without even scoring. Ours is a system that prefers to treat instead of prevent, yet the latter would save the country money to invest in other health needs of its citizens. So we have sectors fighting one another even taking each other to court with charges of interfering with their operations, operations which we will eventually pay for in the form of treatment.

Commitments were made to increase access to cancer prevention and treatment services through vaccinations, increased facilities and equipment: noble and fantastic news, but also agreeable among many was that focusing on primary prevention will be our ultimate savior. In my opinion, different sectors ought to have a delivery package on their contribution to health- something we can hold them against- because the challenge with non-communicable diseases is to make the broader social and economic policies and programmes whose core business is not health become NCD sensitive. For instance, the ministry of urban planning, how many walkways have you made in the last quarter? The ministry of information and communication, how much have you sensitized people on lifestyle change? The food industries, how much have you improved your products to minimize salt, calories and trans-fats?

Because to answer to the earlier questions, I would rather meet up with friends for a bite or drink than sit in traffic, only my place of choice is highly likely to be selling juices that have been heavily sweetened, if not alcohol. I would rather get the fries in the next first food joint if it saves me a hundred shillings, or better yet skip lunch and have a heavy meal at dinner.

And while you are still sitting -half the members being hypertensive- arguing about regulations that are affecting your profitability but improve the health and productivity of your very consumers, Rwanda is growing fast, and her government set aside Friday afternoons for sports.



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