Media outlets are daily giving us information about diseases and other threats to our health.
Cancer has been reported upon regularly, but we need to have a holistic approach to these problems. In many cases, we have the capacity and knowledge to prevent diseases, especially those non-communicable diseases (NCD), including cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular ones (involving the heart and blood vessels), hypertension, which are on the increase.
Among these, mental conditions are assuming more importance and expenditure to manage them could overtake the others over the coming years. Many of these diseases can be prevented by living and eating well.
Some of the things we can do to remain healthy include: avoiding fried food; drinking beverages and eating food without refined sugar; doing regular exercise.
For those living in towns, it would be a good idea to create spaces where only pedestrians and cyclist can go so that we can have more time to walk, and talk to each other. Moreover, use of the private cars contributes towards pollution and congestion, especially in Kampala.
With regard to cancer, a dreaded NCD, in the US, the President’s Cancer Panel issues an annual report. The 2010 report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now”, is exceptionally informative because it focuses on the chemicals that pollute water, houses, air and soils.
It notes that of the more than 80,000 chemicals in the US, only few hundred have been tested for safety. It further points out that 300 contaminants have been detected in the umbilical cord blood of new born babies, and calls for more strict regulation of use of synthetic chemicals.
If we look at Uganda where there is indiscriminate use of pesticides in agriculture, and other areas, the risks are higher. Most of these chemicals have clear indications about how to store, mix, use and dispose of them, which does not, of course, take away their toxicity.
In the sale and handling of grains and legumes, we are using tonnes of pesticides which are ingested mainly by our sons and daughters in schools. Exotic animals cannot survive in the tropics without using pesticides on them. And yet we have alternatives to using toxic chemicals. With many of our indigenous animals and plants, there is hardly any need to use pesticides.
Why don’t our research institutions and university faculties make more research into the indigenous methods of preserving grains, for example? It is known that ash and juice are good and safe means of preserving grains and legumes. Organic farming is not an idealised form of farming; it has to be embraced if we are to prevent some of the diseases coming from use of pesticides.
Uganda has some of the best environmental laws and yet in practice, the disposal of waste seems to be nobody’s business. Since 2009, the debate on banning use of polythene products commonly known as kaveera is still going on. We are awaiting implementation of this ban in supermarkets on 15 April 2015, as the Executive Director of NEMA has promised. (The Prime Minister has issued a statement postponing the ban “while discussions with relevant ministries and other stakeholders are being finalised” – Editor)
Why don’t Ugandans themselves take the initiative to use their own containers when they go shopping? Environmentally friendly bags made out of natural materials are available if we care to invest in these. Otherwise, mismanaging the environment is bound to backfire. The Daily Monitor on April 8 reported that 1.3 million Ugandans get food-borne diseases. On April 9, the same newspaper reported that according to a report by the Ministry of Health, vegetables in and around Kampala are contaminated with lead, a toxic heavy metal.
Aren’t there government officials that we can hold accountable for all these health and environmental problems? Toxic chemicals also come from food containers we use for packaging and cooking. For example, aluminium cookware, used by most Ugandans, is known to cause aluminium poisoning. Safer alternatives can be found in using stainless steel and earthen cookware.
Toxic chemicals are also found in some human drugs and beauty products which are not safe. Some of the cosmetics, even those which are purportedly “natural”, are contaminated with heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and aluminium. Watch out for these in deodorants, makeups and lipsticks. There are also safer alternative to beauty products from shea nut butter and sesame oils, which are available in Uganda, and in extra virgin olive oil, which we can get in shops.
All the issues that have been highlighted above can be addressed if the educational institutions and communities put in place appropriate awareness and educational programmes at all levels. If people are equipped with relevant information, it is hoped that we will begin to see some positive changes. Our faculties of medicine should be renamed faculties of health and oriented towards promoting health rather than focusing essentially on healing diseases. This does not exclude equipping our hospitals with means to detect and heal diseases.
Mr Kanyandago is a professor of Ethics and Development Studies at Uganda Martyrs University. email@example.com