Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Stemming the rising cases of preventable deaths in Nigeria

 I am deeply worried about the rising cases of terminal sicknesses, auto accidents and suicides in Nigeria. These days, many diseases that used to be prevalent in old people are now afflicting young ones, even teenagers. Hypertension, diabetes, stroke, cancer, kidney failure, liver damage, are few of them. What could be responsible for this change? How can we stem this ugly tide? Who are the responsible actors that will bring about the desired change?
There is no gainsaying that lifespan of Nigerians is diminishing. World Health Ranking said “According to the latest World Health Organisation data published in 2015, life expectancy in Nigeria is: Male 53.4, female 55.6 and total life expectancy is 54.5 which gives Nigeria a World Life Expectancy ranking of 171.” According to WHR, the  following are the top 20 causes of death among Nigerians:  Influenza and Pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, Stroke, Coronary Heart Disease, Diarrhea diseases, Malaria, Diabetes Mellitus, Meningitis, Prostate Cancer and  Liver Disease. Others include: Road Traffic Accidents, Malnutrition, Low Birth Weight, Maternal Conditions, Tuberculosis, Breast Cancer, Birth Trauma, Falls, Violence and Fires. Take a critical look at these conditions and you’ll find out that all of them are preventable. Why then do we lose thousands of lives to these avoidable occurrences?
My preliminary research has revealed that there are several factors that are responsible for the current state of untimely deaths in the country. Top among them are environmental factors, ignorance, poor funding of Nigeria’s health sector, self-medication, fake and adulterated products, unhealthy lifestyles, technology, corruption and religious bigotry.
Modern technology has completely changed human orientation. Industrialisation brought with it huge emissions of carbon-monoxide from many of the factories and industries. Emissions from the exhaust pipes of these industries coupled with industrial wastes generally have contributed in no small measures to ozone layer depletion, thereby causing climate change. Nigeria may not be a highly industrialised country but oil exploration activities in the Niger Delta region has led to gas flaring for over 50 years now as well as countless oil spillages. This is responsible for environmental degradation including the destruction of aquatic lives and farmlands. For some time now, there have been reports of soot covering most part of Port Harcourt in Rivers State. The toxicity of Niger Delta environment has been known to cause serious health challenges ranging from coronary hearth diseases to many types of cancers.
Still on negative impact of modern technology, the advent of mobile phones and other Information, Communication Technology such as computer and television have been harbinger of good and bad. Much as these ICT tools make life easier and better. However, some of them cause radiation which is inimical to human health. They are said to cause brain damage, visual impairment, cancer, low sperm count, and many others. These happen when they are not handled with care and used safely.
Desertification as a result of deforestation has contributed to ozone layer depletion and climate change. The windstorm arising from that has been one of the causes of blindness in Northern Nigeria.  Our lackadaisical attitude to proper hygiene and sanitation is phenomenal. Many households are very filthy. More like  refuse dumpsites. Solid and liquid wastes are indiscriminately disposed. Open defecation is still a serious issue in many homes and communities in Nigeria.  Environmental sanitation policy of government is observed in breach.  Little wonder preventable sicknesses like malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, polio, cholera and meningitis still cause thousands of death in this country.
I have read, watched and listened to many stories of production of substandard and fake products for human consumption. This is very common with drugs, beverages, water, foodstuffs and even petroleum products circulating in Nigeria. Some of these products are imported into the country from some Asian countries like China and India. Hundreds of others are also produced locally. Some of the companies manufacturing these adulterated, substandard or fake products have been busted by law enforcement agencies. However, this is usually after much damage had been done to human health by these merchants of death.
There are many of us who indulge in self-medication. We rarely subject ourselves to proper clinical and laboratory diagnosis. We are in the habit of walking straight to a pharmacy and asked to be sold drugs which are not prescribed for us by qualified medical practitioners. Since the pharmacy owner is in business to make money, he or she will be too eager to sell to any willing buyer who may inadvertently be complicating his or her heath issues. It is common knowledge that many never took cases of headache, stomachache, malaria, cough and catarrh to hospitals. Yet, these sicknesses may just be symptoms of more deadly diseases. Oftentimes, by the time such patients report to hospitals, their cases are hopeless, medically.  
Much as one may want to blame many sick people for avoiding going to the hospitals and indulging in self- medication or resorting to faith clinics; it is also important to note that many of  our hospitals, both public and private owned are not patient friendly. In many public hospitals, many of the facilities are obsolete and overstretched. The workforce is also inadequate while industrial action is the norm. Because it is cheaper to access healthcare in government owned hospitals, many patients go there and because of understaffing prompt attention is rare there except it is an extreme emergency. On the other hand, many private hospitals offer prompt services but that in itself is if the patient is ready to pay the prohibitive charges.
Our unhealthy lifestyle is also a contributory factor to the high incidences of terminal diseases and mortality in Nigeria. The eating habits of many Nigerians are a cause for concern.  Parents indulge children in too many sweet things like cakes, beverages and ice creams. Eating out has become the norm among many working class people. And what do they eat at their so called choice restaurants? Junks! There are many people who prefer snacks to proper food and have preference for fried foods. Many of them also drink several bottles of beer or soft drinks daily. To worsen things, some of these people who eat and drink indiscriminately hardly work out. I mean they don’t exercise. They eat their junks and cruise around in their air-conditioned cars and live in well air-conditioned homes. So they have no means of burning the huge calories they consume daily. Sooner than later, they develop congenital heart diseases and diabetes.
It is important to also mention the role of religion in premature deaths and sicknesses of many Nigerians. There are several clerics that have misadvised and misinformed their followers about western medicine. While growing up, my family used to attend a church that believes in “holy water” as solution to every problems and diseases. Church members were indoctrinated not to go to hospitals for any treatment. My mum nearly died of an ailment as a result of this brainwash. We now know better. However, there are many who are enslaved by such strange doctrine. Many have died while many have suffered permanent disability due to this religious bigotry.

The way out of this ugly phenomenon is simple. Much of it rests with us as individuals. We need to change our attitudes to the environment and ourselves. We need to embrace hygiene and sanitation, live healthy lifestyles and learn to use information communication technology responsibly. Government need to ensure that regulatory and law enforcement agencies are well resourced with adequate manpower and working tools to be able to perform their statutory responsibilities. Public hospitals need to be made patient friendly with affordable services. It is imperative to encourage and incentivise more Nigerians to enroll in health insurance so that they will no longer have to pay out-of-pocket. Above all, public enlightenment is very important.