We need to appreciate the complexity around chronic diseases – Dr Misheck Nkhata

Welcome to the Chronic Care Matters podcast, a conversation series of the Chronicity and Care in African Contexts Project.

Chronic Care Matters features conversations with individuals and caregivers with personal experiences of chronic illness, and with researchers, health professionals and advocates who are working with African communities on the continent and in the diaspora. We explore life stories, as well as themes like food, faith, medicine and the mind – tools we can use to prevent and manage chronic diseases, to care for ourselves and for loved ones who live with chronic diseases, and to support caregivers. Thanks for joining us.

It can be a real struggle having to deal with a non-communicable disease whether it be diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer or heart disease. However, more and more people are having to live with multiple chronic diseases. This causes a number of challenges, not just for the sufferer, but also their carers.

In this month’s Researcher of the Month podcast, Syerramia Ohene (SO) chats with UCL’s  Dr Misheck Nkhata (MN), we delve into about some of these challenges and how they can be dealt with.

Listen to the full podcast and read an excerpt from our conversation below:

Please note that this interview has been edited for clarity.

SO:  How does your research relate to chronicity and care in Africa?

MN: Many chronic diseases are on the rise, so it is important that there is a focus on how to provide care, particularly integrated care. Should somebody [suffering from multiple non-communicable diseases] be going to three different clinics at the same time, or should they should be receiving integrated care from just one clinic? This is important because these chronic conditions are often linked. And finally, if a person is suffering from diabetes, for example, what can they do to avoid developing other chronic conditions?

SO: What would you say are the major barriers to reducing our risk of NCDs?

MN: There are several. One is our diet. In recent years, there has been a huge change in our diets. The types of food types that are readily available are often not very good for our health. But it’s important to appreciate that it’s not very easy to adhere to some of the advice people often get from the hospital about managing these chronic diseases.

SO: Do you have any advice for those who suffer from multiple chronic conditions?

MN: Well, I think that these individuals need to appreciate the complexity of what they are experiencing and not to put pressure on themselves. Why? Because sometimes the advice they may get from hospitals or others can imply that they are to be blamed for not managing their illness very well or even developing it in the first place.

We need to appreciate that the causes of these chronic conditions are complex. So it’s not necessarily a person’s fault if they develop a disease or are managing it poorly. Other factors could contribute to the condition. For example, if somebody is stressed, their diabetes could become worse.

SO: Do you have any advice for caregivers?

MN: We need to appreciate the struggle that caregivers go through and encourage them to do their best to reduce their stress. Caregivers can get stressed because they may not adhere very closely to medical advice. But they can still try to do as much as they can for the patient, even if they find it hard whether it is diet or medication.

Another challenge for caregivers are emerging alternative medicines and care practices such as spiritual or herbal medicines which claim to cure these conditions. But I have yet to hear of an alternative medicine that actually results in a cure. So it is important that sufferers don’t stop taking the medicines from the hospital and say, ‘I’ll get prayed for’ or ‘I’ll get these herbal medicines and I’ll get cured’. Because what ends up happening is that the condition worsens, and then they have to go back to taking the medical drugs.

SO: Interestingly, I have noticed among my social circle that sometimes if one family member needs to change their diet because of suffering from say high blood pressure or high cholesterol, the entire family has changed their diet to support that one person.

MN: Yeah, it is important that family also get support as caregivers, particularly in terms of making sure that they are providing the proper care. We also need to work at getting chronic disease sufferers getting diagnoses as early as possible. When people are diagnosed very late, their conditions can be very severe and we want to avoid that.

Listen to the full podcast:

Misheck Nkhata is a Research Fellow for the Institute of Advanced Studies at University College London (UCL).

Thank you for listening to the Chronic Care Matters podcast. For more insights on Chronicity and Care in African Contexts, please visit our website www.chronicitycareafrica.com and follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter [at] Chronicity Care Africa. See you next time.

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