Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Nigerians disdain for preventive medicine


What is preventive medicine? According to American College of Preventive Medicine, “It is a branch of medicine that focuses on the health of individuals, communities, and defined populations. Its goal is to protect, promote, and maintain health and well-being and to prevent disease, disability, and death.” There is a popular saying that prevention is better than cure and that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. In developed climes, this aspect of medicine is accorded high priority. Unfortunately, in Nigeria the emphasis seem to be on curative medicine.

Preventive medicine or healthcare manifests in a wide range of areas. Experts say there are four layers of prevention which are Primal, Primary, Secondary and Tertiary. For decades, government at all levels in Nigeria has been giving free vaccination to children from 0 – 5 years against six "killer" diseases, namely diphtheria, polio, tetanus, tuberculosis, measles and whooping cough. Unfortunately, many parents still held on to superstitious beliefs and refused to immunize their children. This is why Nigeria hitherto became notorious as one of the few countries where wild polio is still endemic. Thankfully, for two years now, no new polio virus has been found in Nigeria and by next year the country will be certified polio free if there are no new reported cases. It rends my heart when I see polio victims because it is a preventable disease.

There have also been free HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis screening and treatment in public hospitals. Yet, many at risk people refuse to go for free counseling and testing. They relish in the myth that what you do not know will not kill you.  By the time the diseases may have ravaged their bodies, it will be too late to treat. It has been repeatedly said that women should go for period breast and cervical cancer screening. In fact, many public hospitals offer free counseling to women on how they can, on their own, check their breast for any possible onset of cancer. It is heart rending that many of our women refuse to heed this life-saving advice. By the time the cells would have mutated and they now go to hospital for testing, it is often too late to effect a cure.

Routine medical checkups have been advised by medical experts. However in Nigeria, it is an elitist practice. Many of us never go for checkups. There are many walking corpses in Nigeria who though appear healthy on the surface but are living dead. Some of the people in this category have high blood pressure or high blood sugar without them knowing because they never go to check at heath centres. Any wonder there are high incidences of sudden deaths in Nigeria? There are people who have itches in their eyes and instead of going for eye test would rather walk into a pharmacy for eye drop. A simple eye screening would have revealed if it is onset of glaucoma or cataract or mere eye irritation. By resorting to self-help, many have become irreversibly blind.

For decades, Nigerian government has been trying to roll back malaria without success. The disease, though preventable, is one of the major killer sicknesses in Nigeria especially among Nigerian infants between 0 – 5 years old. The irony is that by observing simple environmental hygiene, experts say we can greatly reduce the endemic nature of the disease. All we need do is clearing our premises of stagnant water, bushes, dirt and any other things that mosquitoes can use to breed. It has been also advised by health practitioners that we should sleep inside mosquito repellant nets. How many of us observe these simple procedures? Billions of Naira are spent annually for treatment of malaria with attendant loss of man-hours due to absence from work by those who catch the disease.

Do you know that mere hand washing is a life saver? According to Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, “Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water.” Diseases that hand washing could help prevent include:  influenza (flu), Streptococcus (pneumonia, strep throat), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the common cold. Others are:  Salmonella, shigella, hepatitis A, giardia, enterovirus, amebas and campylobacteriosis.

Many of us who are diabetic and hypertensive today could have avoided the diseases if only we are disciplined by adopting a lifestyle change early enough. Eating natural, balanced diet, low salt and sugar intake and regular exercising have been discovered to prevent these diseases. Unfortunately, many Nigerian preferred to indulge in eating of processed food otherwise known as junk food, intake of excessive sugary drinks and yet are very lazy at exercising. There are those who erroneously believe that pot-belly or being overweight is evidence of good living. Many people also do not know the order of eating. A lot of people eat fruits immediately after meals when in actual fact, according to nutritionists, fruits are best when eaten on empty stomach or some minutes before meal. There are those who could not eat without drinking cold water. This has been found to be unhygienic as it will impede quick digestion of the food particularly if it’s oily food. Warm water, experts advised, helps to fasten the digestion process.

It’s rainy season now but many mothers instead of wearing warm clothing for their children, would rather wear light clothing for them thereby exposing them to cold and catarrh and possibly pneumonia. There are even adults who say they cannot do without fan and air-condition even during rainy season. This is an open invitation to pneumonia. Open defecation is unhealthy. It can lead to outbreak of diseases such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis A, yet many houses and offices in Nigeria do not have toilet facilities. This is sad! Simple thing like proper waste disposal can enhance good health.

It is high time government at all levels see to it that they embark on massive sensitisation campaign on the importance of preventive medicine. Environmental health officers otherwise called Sanitary Inspectors need to be deployed to every nooks and crannies of the country to help in promoting environmental sanitation.  Individuals and families must be more responsive to their health needs. We need to imbibe healthy living habits by eating right, recreating, excising, going for routine medical checkups and stop indulging in self-medication.  It is important to realise that health is wealth and a healthy nation is a wealthy nation!