Africa's defense against non-communicable disease

Tuesday, 10 April, 2018

Dr Jenniffer Mabuka, H3Africa Programme Manager, African Academy of Sciences

It was around 3 p.m. on Jan. 18, 2017, when I received the dreaded phone call. My sister-in-law’s voice on the other end of the line was unusually shaky. “Dad just fainted,” she said. “The doctors say we need to get him to an intensive care unit.”

My father had worked hard all his life and had generally stayed in good health. Indeed, we had spoken a few days earlier and he hadn’t mentioned any aches or pains. This message made no sense to me. But there was no time to think about it—we needed to get him to a hospital. Hours later, we learned that he had suffered a haemorrhagic stroke, and 10 days later, he succumbed.

Losing my father to a stroke—a “non-communicable disease”—was difficult to come to terms with. Like many doctors and academics across Africa, I had dedicated most of my career to studying communicable disease; specifically, I spent 16 years conducting HIV research, after experience dealing with communicable diseases throughout my childhood sparked my interest in the subject. Only in the last year has my attention, and the attention of many others on the continent, turned to non-communicable diseases—the quiet killers.