Brenda Chitindi: Struggling with Multiple NCDs in Zambia

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Brenda Chitindi
Brenda Chitindi

When Brenda Chitindi was growing up, one of many children in a family in a rural village of Zambia, she had no idea that her father’s habit of smoking would have a negative effect on her health.

“We lived in a three room, grass thatched house with our parents,” she recalls. “Our house had no ventilation, so smoke circulated all around the room. Each time he smoked, we, the children, would enjoy the smell and didn’t feel any signs of health complications.”

However, when she was 45, Brenda, who is now 70 years old and a mother of five, was diagnosed with hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis and chest congestion.

The woman shared her experience in the NCD Diaries project, an initiative launched by the NCD Alliance.

“As I waited for my appointment, my condition worsened,” she explains in her testimony, as she describes how she had to wait for three months before the only specialist at the local hospital could see her. “I continued taking painkillers but experienced stiffness of my hands and fingers, weight loss, knee and feet pains, numbness on my left side, shortness of breath at night, weakness and dizziness.”

NCDs (noncommunicable diseases) are the first cause of death and disability worldwide, accounting for 74% of all deaths. Among many others, they include cancers, cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic respiratory and kidney diseases, diabetes, mental health and neurological conditions – all conditions that are not transmissible from person to person.

An estimated 80% of NCDs are preventable. They are driven by modifiable risk factors including tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol, and air pollution.

Brenda says that her hypertension medication – whose cost she had to cover out of pocket with the help of her children – left her with significant side effects, including fatigue.

“This led me to develop obesity as I slept more and exercised less,” she writes. “Since developing obesity, my health provider advised me to adopt a special diet which I still follow, and to walk 2-3 km every morning.”

Zambia has now introduced its National Health Insurance Management Authority, which covers the costs of Brenda’s treatments.

Brenda has also benefited from the establishment of Zambia NCD Alliance.

“I’ve acquired knowledge on risk factors of hypertension, obesity, arthritis and other NCDs, which has helped me to spread awareness to women on prevention measures relating to tobacco and alcohol use, and on the importance of physical exercise,” the woman remarks.

Yet, there is still significant work to do to support NCD prevention and treatment in the African country.

“My NCD care journey highlighted key challenges with health providers in Zambia, including long wait times, limited pain management expertise, and scarcity of resources and services,” Brenda points out in her diary. “There’s a need to improve NCD prevention, care and pain management, and equip people with the skills to self-manage their own treatment.”

Read Brenda Chitindi’s full NCD Diary.
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Image Credits: Courtesy of NCD Alliance.

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