Saturday 19 December 2015

Stop Abdominal Scarification

There is a very dangerous practice that has gone on for so long among mothers mostly in the rural areas and alternative medicine practitioners; abdominal scarification as a treatment for enlarged spleen. It appears a very hot substance is pressed on the stomach to 'melt' whatever they believe is responsible for the enlarged spleen. The cause of the enlarged spleen is often believed to be a disease of its own caused by accumulation of bad blood, worms or maybe evil spirit. This practice seems more common in the Southern parts of Nigeria. The Igbos call it "apa afo", "obara afo" and any such name depending on the part of Igbo land one is from. Sometimes they perform incisions on that part of the skin covering the palpable spleen, probably to make the bad blood bleed out.  Take a look at many kids below 10 and living in rural areas in the aforementioned region of Nigeria and you would likely observe this in more than 50% of them. It's heartbreaking to say the least that little kids are made to go through such treatment. 

Enlargement of the spleen has several causes, available research suggests the most prevalent cause in Nigeria is malaria. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) also reported high incidences of splenic enlargement in places where malaria is endemic. The safest place to diagnose the cause of your child's splenic enlargement is in a hospital. Let a doctor, preferably a paediatrician do the diagnosis and prescribe the right course of treatment. Some of the mothers who let their children go through this believe there is no treatment for it in orthodox medicine, while most of them do it out of ignorance and helplessness.

Scarification poses serious threats to a child's survival. The child's abdomen gets scalded and could get infected or some other complication may arise. The instruments used to perform the incisions could also harbour some deadly disease-causing microorganisms. So many things could go wrong, yet it's not solving the problem.

A lot really needs to be done as regards awareness and enlightenment of mothers, most especially those in the rural areas. We cannot continue to watch while children are left with scars in a treatment course that achieves little or nothing at all. With the proliferation of internet users, I hope this piece gets to someone who would help enlighten another on how wrong and inhuman abdominal scarification is. I believe these kids scream out in pain when this totally unnecessary treatment course is being done.

So many things are done wrongly. So many things we do contribute to the alarmingly high mortality rates in our country. We need to join hands and drive ignorance away; this ignorance that puts lives at risk. We need to say no abdominal scarification and all child scarifications in general. We need to put a stop to traditions and treatment courses that put lives at risk and achieve little or absolutely nothing.

Let us all join hands to stop harmful traditions.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

HMOs: Affordable Healthcare Solutions

We at the Informed Mum need to contribute our bit to the World Health Organization’s “Every woman, every child” program whose ultimate ambition is to end preventable deaths among all women, children and adolescents (and in fact everyone).  Many people among us have little or no access to essential, good-quality health services.  Hardly does a day go by in Nigeria without one hearing of someone dying, mostly of preventable and/or treatable causes. Most of the deaths have their causes rooted in poverty and/or a fear of hospital bills, so we tend to take the cheap way out. We patronize quacks, or these over-the-counter drug vendors one finds in almost all nooks and crannies of our society. Their drugs and treatment are cheap as far as money is concerned. One most times ends up buying fake or sub-standard drugs which hardly ever takes care of the issue (reminds one of the phrase “....high cost of cheap stuff......”). Those vendors just ‘mix’ drugs and give one depending on the symptoms one described. It is often shocking to find out they also sell some prescription drugs. It gets scarier by the day.

Things are hard, the economy seems to be getting harder by the day but we have to survive while we hope things get better. We can get our health insured, We can register with any HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) of our choice that would manage our healthcare. This assures to a very large extent we do not fall very sick as people with health insurance tend to get to the hospital once they notice even the slightest ill-health symptom. Many of us used to believe one needs to work with a corporate organization or the government to be able to access a HMO’s services.  These HMOs have  health packages for individuals as well as for families. There packages cover different ranges of health-care services. You simply choose the HMO of your choice; choose the package you can afford and the hospital convenient for you among those they work with. Some have packages as low as twelve thousand Naira and very flexible payment plans.

There are huge benefits in signing up for a health insurance plan. They offer cost-effective medical care, You do not have to pay out-of-pocket for your healthcare anymore except for some companies that have a co-payment plan,  You can get to the hospital and access quality care even when your pockets are empty. They also have ways of handling emergencies; when you cannot access your registered hospital. Just enroll yourself and/or your family and you are good to go. We took the liberty to attach the link to NCRIB (The Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers)-approved HMOs

here. Simply view or download the pdf, contact any HMO of your choice and inquire about their packages and partner hospitals, settle with one and voila, your health is insured for one year or thereabout.

A health maintenance plan will make a very good  gift for a loved one, especially those who can hardly afford it. We need to join hands and work towards better health for all of us. We need to stop preventable deaths. We need to contribute to supporting people to reach their full potential. We need to reduce the ridiculous mortality rates in our nation. We need to contribute our quota to improving the social determinants of health of everyone around us. We all need to work towards universal health coverage for all Nigerians. 

Saturday 12 December 2015

To all fighters and survivors of cancer

I just lost a cousin-in-law (hubby's cousin) to cancer. She was a very beautiful and charming lady. Met her once and she left a lasting impression. She battled the "dreaded C" which ravaged her breasts and probably metastasized to other parts of her body. She, 39, was a fighter;  battled this disease for almost three years till she gave up the will to fight in the face of dwindling finances and strength. She was reported to have said something akin to "I'm tired and giving up". She left behind three kids with the eldest barely 7. It hurts deeply. Her parents are inconsolable. This piece is dedicated to her and to all those battling the "dreaded C".

Breast cancer is reported to be the most common cancer among women worldwide with the highest cases reported in developed countries. Low-income countries like ours have a gradually rising incidence as a result of increasing life expectancy, increased urbanisation and adoption of Western lifestyles. While it's occurrence is higher in developed nations, deaths due to breast cancer are higher in developing nations largely due to poor health facilities and financial capabilities. The least we can do is check our breasts at least once a month for lumps. We do not know the exact cause of breast cancer, but experts suggest that healthy living can reduce our risk. Let's try eating healthy and fresh foods as much as possible, exercise can also not be overemphasised . Anyone can have breast cancer ; man, woman or child though one's risk is said to increase as one nears midlife. Mammography is recommended at least once a year for women aged 40 upwards.

Cancer can occur on any part of the body, except the hairs. Some cancers unique to women are those of the uterus, ovary and cervix. Cervical cancer is said to be linked to sexual activity.  Some research works reported it almost doesn't exist among celibate women . HPV (human papilloma virus) screening is highly recommended for sexually active females 21 years and above, especially those who have had more than one partner. HPV is said to predispose one to cancer of the cervix. Our adolescent daughters should also get vaccinated against HPV.

We can't change our genes but we can influence our lifestyle and diet.  Let's reduce our intake of highly processed foods, we are blessed with a vegetation like ours and so many varieties of fruits and vegetables year round. Let us always choose our local foods over exotic species. As much as possible let us reduce our sedentary lifestyles.Loosing one's life in one's prime is horrible so also is making little children orphans.

My heart goes out to everyone facing this battle and those who have lost a loved one to cancer. It is a sad reality and the best we can do for ourselves is get checked regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle. I pray for a cancer-free world. No one deserves to be ravaged by such a dreaded disease.
To Aunty Phina, and all those strong women who bowed down to the fight, may God grant them perfect peace in that place where I believe there exists no cancer or any infliction whatsoever.

Ozoemena (literally translated to mean "may such never befall  us again) is an Igbo name and prayer, that's my prayer for all of us, and our loved ones. Amen.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

World's AIDS day

 Today is World's AIDS day, a day earmarked specially to raise HIV awareness, remember dead loved ones, show solidarity with people living with HIV, celebrate survival and health, and to raise money for HIV and related causes. The theme this year is "The time to act is now". The ultimate goal is to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. To achieve this, new HIV infections should be rare and HIV-positive people should have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from discrimination and stigma. Mother To Child Transmission (MTCT) of HIV should if possible be eradicated. Everyone should know his/her HIV status.

Sub-saharan Africa is said to account for about 70% of the total global new HIV infections. In Nigeria alone, there are about 3 million adults living with HIV and only about 30% of them have access to Antiretrovirals. These adults include pregnant and nursing mums with the potential  of transmitting the dreaded infection to their children.We need to eliminate paediatric HIV infections and also keep parents alive. Without any intervention, the risk of transmission of HIV infection from the mother to the baby is said to be 20-45 per cent. This transmission rate can be reduced to less than 2 per cent.

We need to check our HIV status as frequently as one thinks one has been exposed. HIV-positive pregnant mums need to register early at a VCT (voluntary counselling and testing) centre and have their pregnancy and delivery monitored, take the prescribed ARVs. We need to break the HIV/AIDS circle and have a generation free from it. Some of our habits expose us and our loved ones to HIV infection. Top among these habits is indiscipline.

I've seen several very indiscipline people who disregard their HIV-positive status and live careless sexual lives. They tend to say "I no go die alone" and go ahead spreading the virus. That is wickedness of the highest order. Some live in denial after being diagnosed and go ahead living their lives like nothing happened, till it almost gets out of hand then they start seeking a miracle. The funniest bunch are those who don't believe HIV/AIDS is real, I've seen someone at the last stages of AIDS saying it's 'attack'; you know how good we are on blaming everything on the spiritual.

Faith. I believe in God, I believe faith works but sometimes we really tend to abuse faith. Yeah, I believe in the '...moving mountains..' part, but I also know a part says ' without works is dead.'. People get diagnosed with HIV and instead of going to the hospital to access treatment that God-so-kind can be gotten free of charge, we go to prayer houses and to Men of God, seeking for miracles. Some abandon their ARVs midway cos someone prophesied that 'they are healed'. I think our prayers and faith should be directed towards finding a cure to the infection.

New HIV infections are reported daily in Nigeria with our cases of HIV-related infections topping the global chart. Nigeria alone is responsible for about 80% of the new cases of HIV-related tuberculosis infections in the globe. We need to be disciplined as indiscipline affects us in every sphere of our lives. Let's stop the spread of HIV, know your status, if positive follow you healthcare- giver's instructions  and prescriptions. If you are negative do not stigmatise or discriminate against others who aren't, HIV is not airborne. Increase the information on HIV/AIDS at your disposal.

There will be several places across our paths today where HIV counselling and screening can be done free of charge . Take advantage of one today, the staff there can answer your questions.  We need to stay alive and keep our loved ones alive too. We need to break the circle of HIV infections. We need to end the epidemic by 2030. We need to have a HIV-free generation. It begins with you. The time to act is NOW.