Making Wellness a Lifestyle Not a Fad
Health has come into strong focus in the country with Universal Health Coverage (UHC) being declared one of the big 4 agenda for the President of Kenya in his current term. Globally, apart from UHC, the discussion is around the rise in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and interventions to lower the impact of NCDs. The WHO 2018 report on NCDs reiterates that NCDs are the leading cause of death worldwide, carrying a huge cost that goes beyond health to trap people in poverty, deny them a life of dignity, undermine workforce productivity and threaten economic prosperity. The report indicated that NCDs and mental illness accounted for 71% of global deaths, mostly occurring in low and middle-income countries like Kenya. Suicide was also reported to be on the rise with at least 800,000 lives lost to suicide each year; and for every person who died by suicide, there are 20 others who have attempted suicide. A prior suicide attempt is an important risk factor for suicide.
Recently, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Health, Kenya Ms Sicily Kariuki reported that NCDs account for 50% of deaths in Kenya and 50% of hospital admissions. These indicators have led to the scaling up of the UHC mandate to include NCDs. The ministry of health also reports that 25% of Kenyans are unknowingly living with high blood pressure and other heart diseases. Therefore, wellness programs are currently relevant in corporate employee welfare strategies to optimize productivity and retain talent.
AAR Healthcare has been at the forefront in wellness programs conducting over 700 health talks to raise awareness on NCDs with the main point of discussion being around lifestyle changes and regular checkups to detect NCDs early. The highest demand for the talks has been from the white-collar workforce driven by concerns over premature deaths and the ever-rising cost of healthcare and medical insurance. The old adage, prevention is better than cure, is still true today. For example, approximately 25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of ischemic heart disease are linked with physical inactivity. This means that at least a quarter of the commonly occurring NCDs could be prevented if we became more physically active.
AAR Healthcare carries out >3,000 wellness checks every year. The wellness checks include screening for NCDs including diabetes, high blood pressure and several cancers (breast, cervical, pancreas, colon, ovarian). We find that being overweight is the most common health risk among Kenyans with the >35% of us being overweight. Following closely is high cholesterol, which increases the risk for the blockage of veins and arteries resulting in strokes and heart attacks. High blood pressure is increasingly prevalent with the age of first diagnosis coming lower to late twenties. Cancer risk is significant with the risk of cervical cancer in women being highest. It is unfortunate to note that whilst the prevalence of cancer of the cervix is highest, only about a quarter of women would do the test when presented with the opportunity. Whilst health involves many personal choices, studies have shown that group interventions have a higher success rate in terms of enrolment and persistence. Starting a health program is commendable, but the greatest impact is in maintaining the lifestyle change.
As part of the wellness program, AAR Healthcare prepares corporate reports that help the organization determine the key needs of their staff and therefore plan corporate interventions. We have seen organizations opt to set space for group exercise as a result of the corporate wellness checks every year. Others have opted to provide subsidized food and refreshments increasing staff access to healthy foods that would otherwise not be available. The uptake of the flu and cholera vaccines have reduced absenteeism and potentially catastrophic illnesses respectively during outbreaks.
The increase in NCDs coupled with lifestyle changes that inevitably occur with advancement necessitates a more deliberate approach towards health. The ever-increasing demand on the employee’s time means that they need support to make that tough choice to invest in healthy habits. Therefore, healthcare organizations like AAR Healthcare that are easily accessible and have the appropriate expertise in the management of NCDs including emergencies like heart attacks, preventive programs and screening programs, are strategic partnerships to sustain a healthy productive workforce.