Professor Peter Lamptey highlights Non-Communicable Diseases as neglected global epidemics responsible for 80% of global deaths

Renowned Public Health expert and Professor in Global Non-communicable Diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Professor Peter Lamptey delivered the 2023 Joseph S. Agyepong Distinguished Lecture on Public Health in Africa.

The lecture was organized as part of activities marking the 75th anniversary celebration of the University of Ghana and was held in collaboration with the Harvard University Center for African Studies.

Cross-section of dignitaries at the Lecture

Addressing a gathering of academics, health professionals, researchers, and other local and international stakeholders on the theme “Combating Non-communicable Diseases: Africa's Greatest Health Challenges,” at the Cedi Conference Centre, University of Ghana, Professor Lamptey referred to NCDs as often overlooked and neglected. He noted that, “NCDs are the world’s most serious disease and represent invisible global epidemics, that unfortunately account for 80% of deaths worldwide.”

Professor Peter Lamptey

He highlighted the five major groups of NCDs, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, and mental health disorders. He noted that behavioral factors such as tobacco use, poor diets, and a lack of physical activity are all medical risk factors that contribute to NCDs.” He emphasized that these problems are frequently ignored until they reach critical phases.

Professor Lamptey also expressed worry about the cultural beliefs that exacerbate the challenges public health professionals’ encounter. He criticized the widespread assumption that obesity is a symbol of wealth, which leads to a lack of urgency in tackling it, and decried the popular practice of turning to herbal alternatives without seeking proper medical assistance, which he claims exacerbates NCD-related disorders.

A cross-section of participants at the Lecture

Focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa, Professor Lamptey highlighted the profound impact of NCDs in the region. He expressed his dismay at the lack of investments by governments and international institutions to effectively fight NCDs. He highlighted the urgency of action and called for governments and international institutions to increase investment in improving infrastructure and increase funding, to ensure comprehensive support for NCD intervention programmes across the continent.

Other experts also shared their views at the lecture. Dr. William Bosu, Professional Officer, Non-epidemic Diseases and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) at the the West Africa Health Organization, discussed the significant economic and financial burdens associated with non-communicable diseases (NCDs). He noted that these burdens are often overlooked, leading to development and sustainability problems in Africa, but highlighted Africa's positive response the challenges.

Dr. Bosu noted that, "there is a higher overlap between chronic, mental, and other infectious diseases with NCDs and the relationship between infectious diseases and mental health." He advocated for evidence-based advocacy and called on African governments to prioritize improving NCD diagnosis and treatment.

A photo during the panel discussion

The panel discussion section of the lecture, moderated by Professor Kwasi Torpey, Dean of the School of Public Health, explored the difficulties and potential solutions to battle NCDs.

Dr. Efua Commeh, manager of the NCD Programme at the Ghana Health Service, stated that though the prevalence of NCDs is high, several attempts have been made by the Service and the Ministry of Health to ensure appropriate interventions are put in place to lessen the burden.

Adopting locally made items such as rice and indigenous food products, according to Dr. Fidelia Dake of the University's Regional Institute of Population Studies, is critical to the social and behavioral adjustments required to prevent NCDs.

She bemoaned the rising incidence of childhood obesity caused by what parents feed their children and asked for a reassessment of the country's advertising regulations and practices.

A cross-section of participants at the Lecture

Dr. Dzifa Attah of the Department of Psychiatry believes that increasing mental health awareness and education in the country is critical. "We need to educate ourselves, learn the signs and symptoms, be able to identify them, and seek help for ourselves, friends, and family members," she noted. "We need intensive public education through rigorous advocacy campaigns, just as we did during the COVID-19 and HIV eras," she urged. She urged individuals to undergo mandatory mental health screenings in order to guarantee that accessible expert aid is delivered on time.

During the panel discussion, Mr. James McKeown Amoah of the Ghana Public Health Association stated that, "policy direction such as the healthier diet for healthy life policy, food composition policy, policy on marketing and advertisement of some products and a policy on fonts for labeling", must be designed and implemented by the government immediately to help deal with the rising rates of NCD. He also mentioned that increases in taxes and prices of sugar-sweetened beverages will help reduce consumption and the negative health implications that come with it.

Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, chaired the lecture, which was under the esteemed patronage of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo.

Earlier in her welcome address, Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, the Vice Chancellor of the University, expressed her optimism about the partnership between the University of Ghana and the Center for African Studies at Harvard University with support from Mr. Joseph Siaw Agyepong, in providing a platform for fruitful discussions, knowledge sharing, and strengthening collaborative ties to combatting the NCDs in Africa.

A group photo of dignitaries after the Lecture

She emphasized the necessity of tackling NCDs and working together to enhance public health in Africa, as well as the University's commitment to advancing the Noncommunicable Diseases agenda.

The Chairman, Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, in brief remarks, expressed concern that lifestyle choices have exacerbated health risks associated with NCDs, with many Ghanaians suffering from multiple NCDs.

He added that NCDs had been included in the National Health Insurance Scheme package and urged Ghanaians to take advantage of it. He also encouraged universities and academics to contribute to NCD knowledge development through significant research activities.

Prof. Emmanuel Acheampong, Director of the Harvard University Center for African Studies, provided a background to the UG-Harvard collaboration.

The lecture focused on the global and African situation of NCDs and stimulated discussions about immediate action, improved investment, improved infrastructure, and comprehensive intervention programmes to tackle the growing burden of NCDs.