A Kenyan is expected to live for about 67 years, based on current life expectancy estimates.
If you ask Robert Mathenge, a physician, cardiologist and co-founder of Doctors for Healthy Living how long a human can expect to live, he’ll tell you that the human body is created to live for at least 100 years.
However, even in the age of major medical advances, lifestyle choices, and particularly unhealthy diets, contribute to shorter lifespans.
“The length of our lives is determined by the health of our arteries,” says Dr Mathenge.
The government hopes that by 2030, Kenyans will have a life expectancy of 72 years on average, but a surge in non-communicable diseases, particularly heart ailments, high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes, which has occurred over a period of 20 to 30 years, could put brakes on this goal.
“When we eat more salt, carbohydrates and the wrong fats (saturated fats and trans fats, which are hardened through industrial processes), we are at risk of developing conditions that lead to hypertension and diabetes,” says Dr Mathenge.
“Instead we should be eating more green leafy vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. We should choose lean meats, fish, poultry and other white meats in order to avoid saturated fats,” he explains, adding that habits such as smoking, excessive use of alcohol and lack of regular physical exercise, expose people to long-term illness and disability.
According to the World Health Organisation, three groups of diseases (cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory ) cause more than 80 per cent of all premature deaths.
These diseases can be averted through behaviour change and pharmaceutical interventions.
Better still, prevention efforts based on ensuring that people know their vital health numbers, can save millions of lives and huge amounts of money, that can then go to other sectors of development.
This is why Doctors for Healthy Living, comprising a multidisciplinary team of a cardiologist, public health specialist (epidemiologist) and a health communication expert, have launched a nationwide campaign dubbed "Know Your Numbers", to encourage Kenyans to be aware of health indicators such as blood pressure and cholesterol readings, in the hope that it will spur them into healthier choices.
It began with a free medical camp at Uhuru Park, Nairobi in October, where more than 600 people were screened for at least five numbers: cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, body mass index and waist circumference.
Women also got pap smears to screen for cervical cancer, while men got PSA test to screen for prostate cancer. H. pylori tests were also offered, because the infection is linked to stomach cancer.
Dr Mathenge said that the campaign provides a platform for doctors to raise awareness on non-communicable diseases, and trigger the public into action for early screening, a preventive measure that can help people avoid serious illness and increase their chances of living long, healthy and productive lives.
“Non-communicable diseases are preventable if screening is stepped up, people know their vital numbers and adopt healthy lifestyles,” noted Deputy Director in charge of Preventive and Promotional Services at the Ministry of Health, Peter Cherutich, during the free medical camp.
Dr Cherutich added that the government had put in place prevention and control measures such as stepping up screening, introduction of sin tax against products such as cigarettes, alcohol and sugary drinks and providing drugs for managing chronic diseases through the National Hospital Insurance Fund.
The writer is a development communication consultant