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SOPHE Announces Health Education & Behavior’s Supplement: Noncommunicable Diseases in Africa and the Global South

The Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) announces the publication of Health Education & Behavior’s (HE&B) supplement, “Noncommunicable Diseases in Africa and the Global South.” Co-edited by Dr. Collins Airhihenbuwa, PhD, MPH, and Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe, MD, MS, MPH.  the supplement includes 13 peer-reviewed articles devoted to the rise of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including hypertension and heart disease, in Africa and other regions in the Global South, and promising solutions to prevent and reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases in areas still struggling with the rampant spread of infectious diseases.

Although communicable diseases such as Ebola and HIV/AIDS take a significant toll of lives throughout Africa and the Global South, the most common cause of mortality in low- and middle-income countries is chronic disease–particularly heart disease and diabetes.  According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa, NCDs are expected to account for an estimated 46% of deaths in the African region by 2030.

Co-guest editor Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe, professor of population health and medicine at New York University, recognizes that hypertension and other NCDs are “largely asymptomatic” diseases and thus emphasizes the importance of context and awareness.  Three important factors play a critical role in the growing epidemic of NCDs in Africa: the significant rise in the spread of infectious disease; an acute shortage of healthcare workers; and a lack of investment in the healthcare system.

In the corresponding podcast, Ogedegbe and Airhihenbuwa, who is dean of the College of Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University, highlight the interplay of these three factors and potential solutions to address them.  “Unlike what we see in the United States and other Global North regions,” Airhihenbuwa states, “the NCD burden [in Africa] coexists with the existing burden of infectious disease … and therefore [requires] a higher sense of urgency” on the part of healthcare providers. The spread of infectious disease, in conjunction with the burden of NCDs, creates a “double burden” and is particularly draining on Africa’s already weak healthcare system.  Despite the disproportionately higher burden of NCDs in Africa compared to other continents, almost all African countries spend less than 6% of their budgets on health care, resulting in a drastic shortage of healthcare workers and reduced access to care.

Addressing the global burden of NCDs and promoting health equity will require public health researchers, policymakers and practitioners to explore and employ a “multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach” through “policy, institutional structures and behavior,” Dr. Airhihenbuwa emphasizes.  Dr. Ogedegbe points to “task

shifting,” or the relegation of “duties that are typically and traditionally handled by physicians to non-physician healthcare workers,” as a proven strategy to address the shortage of healthcare workers and control the NCD epidemic.

This supplement brings the aforementioned approaches, as well as NCDs in Africa and the Global South, to the forefront of the global agenda.  One article points to the role of leadership and research capacity-building to promote and advance global health and substantially improve the health status of Africans.  Another article suggests the growing burden of NCDs can be reduced by “expanding the practice of health education” and “[modifying] the practices of corporations as well as individuals.”  A third study underscores the need for “policies targeted at specific socio-economic and demographic groups” and interventions that “embrace psycho-social factors as important correlates of cardiovascular health.”

All articles in the HE&B supplemental issue are provided through open access at http://heb.sagepub.com/content/43/1_suppl.toc.  Information on related podcasts and webinars are available at http://heb.sagepub.com.  Follow SOPHE and Health Education & Behavior on Twitter:  @SOPHEtweets, #HEB #SOPHEJOURNALS.