BY CORRESPONDENT,NAIROBI,28TH MAY,2022-A Kenyan teacher has received global recognition for his efforts in fighting tobacco use and addiction among local youth.
56-year-old Joel Shunza Gitali, a Kiswahili teacher at Busia’s St. Stephen Bujwang’a Secondary School, was on Friday awarded the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global prize for his works in tobacco control.
The annual WHO award, which is classified in two categories – the WHO Director General Special Recognition Award, and the World No Tobacco Day Award – fetes standout individuals and corporations who actively campaign against tobacco use in each of the six WHO regions.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries was also recognized for introducing alternative crops in tobacco growing areas.
“Tobacco control is important because it promotes health. It enables people to change their habits and become healthier and protects passive smokers. It also helps those who have not began smoking not to start,” Gitali said in a statement.
“It also protects the environment because tobacco plants and cigarette butts are hazardous to the environment. When you look at tobacco growing areas, they are the poorest. Tobacco brings little income which the poor use to pay for the treatment of diseases they develop from handling tobacco leaves.”
Having been brought up by his mother, a community health volunteer, Gitali’s affinity for health was nurtured at a young age. Marrying a nurse for a wife likewise moulded Gitali into the flourishing anti-tobacco activist that he is.
In 1995, for instance, Gitali – who is the current Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance chair – launched the Social Liberation and Health Promotion Club in Maseno to spur social and cultural change to enhance good health practices in the area.
A year later, he would get to experience first-hand, the hold that tobacco has on the country’s youth when he served as a guidance and counselling teacher.
“Students addicted to tobacco and drugs have a problem of not concentrating yet the school environment doesn’t permit them to smoke,” Gitali noted.
“Such students become defiant, they steal from others in order to buy cigarettes. They also sell books and so can’t perform well.”
According to the Ministry of Health, tobacco consumption directly contributes to approximately 9,000 deaths in Kenya each year. It is also one of the four risk factors raising the burden of NCDs in the country.
These deaths, the ministry says, can easily be avoided if persons give up the highly addictive drug.