(P. 43) NOVEMBER 12, 2007
Story: Kofi Yeboah
HIGH blood pressure and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions in Ghana, a renowned Ghanaian physician specialist and cardiologist, Prof Joseph Orleans Mends Pobee, has stated.
At least one in 10 - 15 Ghanaians has high blood pressure, while one in three Ghanaians above 40 years suffers from the same condition.
“By any definition, this is an epidemic in both urban and rural Ghana,” Prof Pobee stated on Thursday when he delivered the 12th in the series of the Golden Jubilee Lectures at the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC).
The lecture, which was under the auspices of the Ghana@50 Secretariat as part of activities to commemorate Ghana’s Golden Jubilee, was on the topic, “The Health of the Nation: Fifty Years After Independence.”
Except for a few quotations and references, Prof Pobee delivered his 75-minute lecture extempore and brought the subject matter home, to the appreciation and admiration of his audience.
He said six per cent of urban dwellers who were 20 years and above and one in 11 Ghanaians above 45 years had diabetes, which he considered a risk factor for heart attack, hypertension, blindness and gangrene of the legs leading to amputation.
“Heart attacks are threatening to be epidemic. If we don’t take action now, by 2020 when we become a middle-income country the epidemic can happen that quickly. History tells us that!” Prof Pobee cautioned.
According to the retired Professor of Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Ghana Medical School (UGMS), medical research had shown that gum diseases could cause diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
He further indicated that the crave by many Ghanaians for Western dietary habits in recent times, as against prudent dietary habits of the past, had increased the risk of contracting such diseases.
Prof Pobee, who is also a former President of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), mentioned obesity, alcoholism, smoking and lack of exercise as some of the risk factors for hypertension.
He, therefore, advised Ghanaians to take oral health seriously and also adopt good dietary habits in order to avoid contracting those diseases.
Prof Pobee expressed concern about individual and social irresponsibility towards the maintenance of good sanitation and environmental cleanliness in the communities and cautioned with a Roman adage that, “Man doesn’t die; he kills himself”.
He blamed the lack of environmental consciousness on the failure of the local government system in the country to instil a sense of environmental cleanliness in the people.
On mental health, Prof Pobee described the neglect of mental health issues as most unfortunate and “a blot on our conscience”.
He did not understand why families whose relations underwent mental treatment normally refused to accept them back after treatment, pointing out that “we seem to have lost our social values”.
Turning attention to road traffic accidents, the 2006 recipient of the Companion of the Order of the Volta (Medicine and General Practice) award said the rate of death through accidents was too high.
He said sometimes many people were concerned about accidents that occurred on the highways but pointed out that the rate of road traffic accidents that occurred in the urban areas and within towns was equally alarming.
Prof Pobee said all those factors had contributed to the increase in the national health budget and called for increased education to make people more conscious of their health to reduce the health burden.
He said although health indicators in the country were improving, there was the need for the government to work harder to ensure further improvement in the country’s health status.
A former member of the Council of State and Minister of Health, Dr (Mrs) Mary Grant, who was the guest of honour, said before the advent of colonialism, West Africa was referred to as the white man’s grave because many of the white settlers died of malaria when they came to settle in the sub-region.
She said it was unfortunate that many decades afterwards, the sub-region “has become our own grave because malaria is killing us, especially our children”.
According to Dr Grant, the change in the rainfall pattern this year could lead to an increase in malaria cases and, therefore, called on the media, religious bodies and traditional authorities to educate the people on the need to embrace good sanitation and environmental cleanliness to avoid the disease.
The President of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, Prof Samuel Ofosu-Amaah, who chaired the event, said the rate of maternal deaths in Africa was 40 times more than that of developed countries.
He said in Ghana, with a population of more than 20 million, at least 10 women died each day through pregnancy-related diseases, while in Sweden, with a population of eight million, two women died each year through pregnancy- related diseases.