Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Tanzania Business Times Correspondence-01

The British Lifestyle Partly Responsible for Levels of Breast Cancer?

A newspaper clipping caught my eye as I rode the underground system in London a couple of days ago. It was stark and somewhat surprising, given the level of healthcare and education over here. ‘UK breast cancer rate much higher than East Africa,’ ran the splash at the foot of the front page.

The article went on to give the statistics: 19.3 women were listed as having the disease out of every 100,000 in the East African countries of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, whereas a whopping 87.9 ladies out of the same number in the UK have been diagnosed.

The journalist himself seemed shocked by the findings and, as I looked around the carriage, it was quite clear that the story had absorbed the attentions of a few of my fellow travellers, eyes glued as they were to the story.

It was a surprise finding.

Accuse us foreigners of snobbery and conceit if you wish – after all, our surprise is a reflection of a deep-seated opinion that Africa is a continent plagued by disease, whereas us lot, with our sanitary regulations and plethora of world-class hospitals, have a certain amount of extra control over our health.

Indeed, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has advised not to take the findings at face value, as British doctors, the reader was informed, have access to better diagnostic techniques and ladies in the UK were more likely to visit the doctor for regular check-ups.

But there was a deeper, more revealing observation behind the findings. The truth, the article went on to suggest, is that so many British women and men have such horrendously unhealthy lifestyles that we bring the cancers upon ourselves.

The British lifestyle, especially in larger towns and cities, revolves around working hard and then letting off steam after a difficult day or week at the job. Letting off steam is notoriously a civil affair in continental countries such as Italy and France: people may go to a coffee shop or have a large and healthy meal with family and friends. In Britain, however, it’s more usual to head to the pub, get a few drinks down your neck and then eat a fattening takeaway from a fast-food outlet. Lack of exercise is also a factor in the unhealthy culture over here.

Tanzania is blessed with some of the best food in the world. I see the nation as a giant shamba that produces huge amounts of juicy, sweet, crunchy and colourful fruit and veg, all grown without the ‘aid’ of chemicals. People in the developed world pay up to twice the amount for ‘organic’ food like this - food that is natural, offered by Mother Earth with as little human meddling as possible – as this kind of food is recognised to be far better for your health than the pesticide-ridden, watery rubbish that we are used to.

A Tanzanian friend, born and brought up in Katesh, recently visited the USA with her American husband. It was the first time she’d left the country. Indeed, when she arrived in Dar es Salaam from the village only ten months ago, it was her first time in the city.

She told me she enjoyed herself but one of the major impressions she had in the nation was the awful quality of the food. Tomatoes had no flavour, mangoes were too small and some of the meat even made her feel ill. She was also surprised and disgusted by the number of obese people – nearly one in three, she said, were ridiculously, unattractively fat.

It comes back to the lifestyle. They say, “You are what you eat”. And the chemical food in the developed world is making people sick. My advice: stick to the basics. No food is more exotic than the huge variety offered by the earth. This is the food that will keep you healthy, happy and ultimately live a longer life. Karibu!

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