A report by WHO in February 2016 shows that one out of every five African children are at risk for diseases like tetanus, pertussis, and measles because they do not receive all of the basic vaccines they need. Widespread fears and myths often prevent communities from embracing vaccination as a life-saving weapon for their children.
Here are common myths that place children at risk for deadly diseases.
Myth 1: Vaccines have damaging and long-term side effects that aren’t known yet. FALSE
Vaccines are very safe. Vaccine reactions tend to be mild and include a slight fever and a sore arm. Severe side effects are rare.
Myth 2: Vaccines are not necessary because improved hygiene and sanitation will make diseases disappear. FALSE
Improving hygiene, hand washing, and clean water help protect people from infectious disease, but infections can spread no matter how clean we are. Without vaccination, diseases that have become almost extinct worldwide, such as polio and measles, will reappear.
Myth 3: Vaccines cause infertility. FALSE
In northern Nigeria and Uganda for example, there is widespread belief that vaccination in childhood causes infertility when they become adults. There is no evidence to support this.
Myth 4: Giving a child several vaccines at a time can cause harmful side effects, and overload the child’s immune system. FALSE
Receiving several vaccines at the same time has no negative effect on a child’s immune system. Children are exposed to hundred s of foreign agents daily in food and the environment that trigger an immune response.
Myth 5: I don’t put others at risk if I don’t vaccinate my children. FALSE
Worldwide, most outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are started by unvaccinated children and adults. Not vaccinating your child puts infants and young children with immature immune systems at risk for severe disease.
Myth 6: Vaccines don’t work. FALSE
The scientific evidence clearly shows otherwise. Vaccines save at least 2 million lives a year. The truth is that because of the success of vaccination programs, most of us are fortunate to have never experienced the devastation caused by the diseases vaccines prevent.
Myth 7: Natural immunity from the disease is better than immunity through vaccines. FALSE
Natural immunity from getting an infectious disease will certainly prevent a child from getting the disease again but comes at a huge cost. The child is sick for days, with school absenteeism and lost working days for parents. More important, though is the significant risk of permanent disability such as paralysis, deafness, mental retardation and even death from the disease.
Myth 8: Vaccines cause Autism FALSE
More than 100 studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism.
Myth 9: Vaccines contain mercury, which is dangerous. FALSE
Thimerosal, an organic, mercury-containing preservative is added in tiny amounts to some vaccines that come in multi-dose vials. Scientific evidence does not show that the amount of thimerosal used in vaccines causes any health risk.
Are you concerned about the cost of vaccination? Here’s what you should know:
It’s way more costly to treat a child who is sick with a vaccine-preventable disease. The cost of hospital admission and medicines can be crippling to the average low-income African family. There are also indirect costs, which include lost income from missing work, school, and childcare. You avoid these costs and the heartache of watching your child suffer by vaccinating your child.
“Wellness, is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – World Health Organization.
Wellness is an active process. A process of becoming aware of what is good health and making choices to achieve it. For most people it’s easier to focus on physical health. Problems with physical health are more obvious than poor mental or emotional health. It’s important though that you pay just as much attention to your emotional health. The mind-body connection is a powerful one and should not be ignored. Problems with physical health often have their origin in poor emotional health.
People who are emotionally healthy are:
- Able to cope with and adjust to the recurrent stresses of everyday living in an acceptable way.
- They handle their emotions appropriately and control their behavior.
- They build strong relationships
- They have a positive outlook to life that allows them to bounce back from adversity.
This ability to recover is known as resilience.
War and disasters have a large impact on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. Economic downturns and difficult life events can also affect emotional health. For much of Sub-Saharan Africa, daily life is stressful. There is a lack of the basic services, benefits and rights that the developed world takes for granted. Political instability, insecurity and economic recession worsen the situation. All these conditions cause an increase in anxiety, depression, substance abuse and community violence.
We all need to be resilient!
Good mental or emotional health allows you to cope with difficulties. You feel good about yourself and find meaning and joy in life. It helps you to remain focused, and work productively. You’re able to maintain good relationships whether times are good or bad.
Research shows some key factors for improving mental and emotional health and building resilience:
- Connect with others– “share your burden”. The best way to reduce stress is by interaction with people who care about you and are supportive. Your situation may not change but by talking about your problems, you lighten the load. Avoid social media “relationship building”. It is only a temporary distraction and is not a substitute for the real thing.
- Get active. Exercise not only boosts your mood by releasing endorphins in your brain but it has direct benefits for your physical health. It improves memory, alertness and productivity. 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily is all it takes!
- Manage stress. Deep breathing relaxation techniques are helpful; meditation; get enough sleep; spend at least 15 minutes daily on something you enjoy such as reading, playing a game, singing, playing with your children; Drop activities that waste your time and don’t improve your life in any way; make time for relaxation.
- Healthy eating. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugary snacks and other forms of stress eating. Choose healthy stress-busting eating options instead. Green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, beans and fish are all good choices.
- Help others. Research shows that people, who help others feel enriched, have greater self-esteem and are happier. It also takes the focus off your problems for a while.
Tips on dealing with your emotions:
- Express your feelings in appropriate ways – Share them with people close to you. Before they become overwhelming and difficult to control.
- Think before you act – Take a deep breath, count to 10 or even 20; leave the room and get some fresh air; go for a walk.
- Strive for balance in your life –Make time for activities you enjoy. Everyday, write down something that you’re grateful for. Focus on the positive things in your life.
Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the world. It is also the most abused drug in the world.
The generally accepted use of alcohol for celebrations and relaxation makes one unaware that it is a particularly harmful substance even in moderate quantities. Car crashes and liver disease are not the only problems due to heavy drinking. Drinking too much, like smoking, damages just about every organ in your body.
When is a drink, one drink too many?
What exactly constitutes “excessive” drinking? Well, let’s first define what is globally accepted as a “drink”.
A “drink” is one shot of liquor, a five-ounce (150ml) glass of wine or 12 ounces of beer (half a bottle of beer), all of which contain the same amount of alcohol – 14gms of pure alcohol.
Excessive drinking comes in two forms:
- Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is having many drinks during a single occasion (women – 4 or more drinks; men – 5 or more drinks during a single occasion)
- Heavy drinking is regularly having several drinks over time (women – 8 or more drinks per week; men – 15 or more drinks per week)
If you take up to 1 drink per day (women) or up to 2 drinks per day (men) you’re already a moderate drinker.
The WHO estimates that over 2 million people each year die from the effects of drinking, through illness, overdoses or accidents. Unlike smoking, which has mostly long-term health effects, drinking too much causes immediate and long-term health problems.
There are immediate effects of excessive alcohol use that put you at serious risk for:
- Injuries, such as motor vehicle accidents, falls, drowning, and burns
- Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence
- Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels
- Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners – can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV
- Miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) among pregnant women
Long-term effects of excessive drinking
Liver damage is the most widely known effect of excessive alcohol use. The liver is one of your most important organs, with many vital functions essential for life. Alcohol causes liver inflammation that is reversible in the early stages but becomes irreversible over time leading to chronic liver disease, liver failure, liver cancer and death.
Other long-term health problems from excessive drinking include:
- Brain damage – causing learning and memory problems, including dementia, poor school performance, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety
- Cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke
- Digestive problems including the risk of severe life-threatening bleeding from the stomach
- Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, colon and breast.
- Reproductive problems including male impotence, infertility, disrupted menstrual cycle, repeated miscarriage, stillbirth or premature delivery
- Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.
- Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.
Drinking too much can also weaken your immune system, making you more prone to infections like pneumonia and TB. Drinking a lot on a single occasion reduces your body’s ability to fight infections for up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
If you drink alcohol while pregnant you’re more likely to have a baby die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Alcohol is also well known for causing birth defects known as FAS or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Babies born with FAS are much smaller than other babies, have abnormal facial features and may have brain damage. They often have behavior, developmental and learning problems, impaired motor skills, poor muscle tone and coordination.
The facts tell us that nothing good comes out of drinking too much – it’s a poison. You can reduce the risk of these short- and long-term health problems by limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. DON’T DELAY, START TODAY.
No rational person would knowingly put 250 harmful chemicals in their body, right? You would think so, but that’s exactly what you do when you smoke!
Do you know that tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals – yes, 7,000 different chemicals. Research so far, shows 250 of them to be extremely harmful to humans while the data is unclear on many of the others. Of the 250 chemicals, 69 are known to cause cancer.
So, maybe you don’t smoke, but do you know someone who does? Perhaps you even live with that person and are exposed to second hand smoke. You may be a parent with children who will one day become adolescents who face peer pressure to smoke. Regardless, this is life-saving information because, even though smoking in Africa is lower than in the developed world and Asia, there is a relatively high smoking prevalence among African youth. The expected population growth and economic development in Africa over the next few decades will cause the smoking habit to rise rapidly if we don’t focus now on prevention.
Nicotine, the most potent chemical in tobacco, is a drug of addiction and is as addictive as heroin and cocaine. That’s why it’s so hard to quit cigarette smoking – it is an addiction.
The health dangers of smoking
Smoking doesn’t harm only the lungs but is harmful to just about every organ in the body and damages your overall health. Even second hand smoke (what you inhale from being around a smoker) has been classified as a carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent. Whether you smoke, chew or sniff tobacco, it is dangerous to your health.
- Smoking is a leading cause of cancer and death from cancer – lung, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, bladder, stomach, liver, colon, and blood cancers, are among the many cancers caused by smoking
- Smoking causes chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) which is responsible for more than 30% of all smoking-related deaths
- Smoking weakens the immune system, increasing the likelihood of lung infections like pneumonia and TB
- Smoking damages blood vessels by thickening and narrowing them causing diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels – heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke
- Smoking makes you more likely to develop diabetes
- Affects bones – Osteoporosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Affects eyes – Macular Degeneration and Cataracts, both can cause blindness
- Smoking causes erectile dysfunction
Women who smoke are at higher risk of Infertility problems, miscarriage, premature babies, small babies, and babies born with cleft lip or palate. The babies are also at greater risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Children exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to develop repeated ear infections, colds, pneumonia and bronchitis. Exposure to smoke over time prevents their lungs from developing normally. If they have asthma, they’re also likely to have more frequent and severe attacks.
The good news in all of this dismal information is that there are immediate and long term benefits if you stop smoking:
- Long term, quitting smoking reduces the risk of cancer and many other diseases, such as heart disease and chronic lung disease caused by smoking.
- Within a few weeks, your heart rate and blood pressure, which are high when smoking slowly begin to return to normal levels and your circulation improves
- Within one year after you stop smoking, your risk for a heart attack drops significantly
- Within 2 to 5 years after stopping smoking, your risk for stroke could fall to about the same as a nonsmoker’s
A word for parents…teach your children the dangers of smoking from a very early age and maintain open communication so that your teenager can come to you with concerns about peer pressure.
The government can do its bit to protect people from tobacco smoke through clean indoor air laws, warning people of the dangers of tobacco use through mass media campaigns and package warnings or even by banning advertising and marketing of tobacco products. Some corporations and employers even offer help to smokers to quit.
If you smoke, only you can make the decision to stop. DECIDE TO STOP NOW – IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE AND THOSE OF YOUR LOVED ONES!
There was a time when the worst things about having a sexually transmitted disease (or STD), were the physical discomfort from the symptoms and the embarrassment and stigma of having the condition. How times have changed!!
For starters, they’re not called venereal diseases or STDs anymore – they’re now known as Sexually Transmitted Infections or STI’s. More importantly, viruses such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and Herpes have changed the STI landscape such that debilitating chronic illness, cancers, and even death are possible outcomes of having an STI. It is also now known that both Ebola and Zika viruses can be transmitted through sexual intercourse because they’re present in the semen of infected men.
STIs or STDs, also known as venereal diseases, are infections or diseases that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact – usually spread by having vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Bacteria, viruses, or parasites that exist on the skin or mucus membranes of the male or female genital area can be transmitted. During sexual intercourse, certain organisms present in semen, vaginal secretions, saliva or blood, can also be transmitted from one person to another.
It may surprise you, that it is possible to get some STIs, such as syphilis, herpes, and genital lice from physical genital contact only, without actual sexual intercourse.
Why are STIs important?
There are different kinds of STIs and some are more serious than others. STIs are more than just infections of the genital tract. Most STIs cause damage to other parts of the body as well. If not detected and treated early, they can lead to serious complications. Some STIs are curable but others are NOT and can only be managed with the right medications.
STIs like HIV, Hepatitis B & C, Human Papilloma Virus and Syphilis can cause death:
- HIV – AIDS, organ failure, cancers
- Genital Herpes – death of infected newborn from overwhelming sepsis
- Hepatitis B and C – Liver failure, Liver cancer
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – cervical, penis, anus, mouth and throat cancers
- Syphilis – brain and heart damage
To complicate matters more, some STIs can also be transmitted by non-sexual routes, making them easier to spread. HIV, Syphilis, Zika, Hep B & C, HIV and Genital Herpes also spread:
- Mother to child
- Before and during childbirth
- From a breastfeeding woman to her baby
- Through the use of unsterilized IV needles
- Through blood transfusions and other infected body fluids
Who is at risk for STIs?
If you think only promiscuous people and prostitutes get STIs, you’d be wrong. Any one having unprotected sex is at risk of STIs. Having multiple sexual partners also puts you at risk. If you think about that, any one who began sexual activity before age 21, has more than a couple of sexual partners by age 30, and has had unprotected sex at any point, already places his or herself at risk for STIs. If you’re having unprotected sex because you think you’re in a monogamous relationship but your partner is having sex with other people, you’re at risk.
If you’ve had an STI or currently have one, you’re at higher risk of getting other STIs. Men who have sex with other men are another group at risk for STIs.
STIs in women
STIs cause serious health problems in women including infertility, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and damage to the newborn from exposure in pregnancy to infections like syphilis, Zika, Hepatitis B & C, HIV, and Genital Herpes.
- If a mother contracts an STI, she can pass it on to her child before, during or after childbirth
- Untreated syphilis in pregnant women results in infant death up to 40% of the time
- Women have a higher risk than men of getting an STI during unprotected vaginal sex
In our next post we’ll look at barriers to treatment and what we can do to prevent STIs.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain stops. If blood flow is cut off for longer than a few seconds, the brain cannot get needed blood and oxygen. Part of the brain can die, causing brain damage.
In Nigeria, one third of people die within the first 7 days after a stroke and a little less than half die within 6 months. Most stroke survivors (85%) are left with problems moving, thinking, and talking which may improve in the weeks to months after a stroke. For many, complete recovery never happens and they’re left with permanent disability.
Would you know if someone is having a stroke?
The symptoms of stroke depend on which part of the brain is damaged. In some cases, a person may not know that a stroke has occurred.
Most of the time, symptoms develop suddenly and without warning. If you’re lucky, symptoms may occur on and off for the first day or two allowing time to seek medical attention. Knowing what the symptoms are is really important and may be the difference between life and death for you or a loved one. Symptoms are usually most severe when the stroke first happens, but they may slowly get worse:
Change in alertness (including sleepiness, unconsciousness, and coma)
- Trouble with walking – Stumbling or sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination.
Trouble with speaking and understanding – Confusion, slurred words or difficulty understanding speech.
Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg – Sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body. Try to raise both arms over the head at the same time. If one arm begins to fall, it may be a stroke. Similarly, one side of the mouth may droop a smile is attempted.
Trouble with seeing in one or both eyes – sudden blurred or blackened vision in one or both eyes, or seeing double.
- Lack of control over the bladder or bowels
Headache – Sudden, severe headache, with vomiting, dizziness or altered consciousness. The headache interrupts sleep and worsens with change in position, bend, strain, or cough.
Ignore warning signs at your peril
Stroke isn’t something that happens to old people or other people – it can happen to you.
- The single most important thing you can do to prevent stroke is to control your blood pressure. Know what your blood pressure is, and if you have high blood pressure partner with your doctor to treat it properly. Regular check ups with your doctor are important.
- If you have high blood pressure you should receive monthly blood pressure tests from the hospital, health center or clinic. If you can afford it, it’s worth buying a small blood pressure measuring kit from a pharmacy and being taught how to take your own blood pressure weekly.
- The best way to prevent stroke from high blood pressure and diabetes is to take steps to lower blood pressure and blood sugar. These steps include a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, which include healthy eating, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol.
- Know the signs and symptoms of Stroke: FAST
Arm weakness or drift
Time is brain…seek medical help immediately
Stroke is sudden weakness of an arm, or leg, sudden blindness, sudden confusion, sudden problems with speaking, difficulty walking, sudden severe headaches, sudden collapse and death. Stroke is due to blockage of a blood vessel carrying blood to the brain, leading to injury or death of that part of the brain. Stroke also occurs when a blood vessel bursts open inside the brain. This is why it occurs ‘suddenly’ as the tap carrying food to the brain gets turned off! In both situations, the brain does not get the food and oxygen it requires.
Stroke: Time is brain
Stroke, is an emergency and requires immediate action to prevent brain damage and death. Stroke causes injury because vital nutrients are not delivered to the brain; and so brain tissue dies. This happens in real strokes, but there are also minor strokes, partial strokes in which the brain does not die or become permanently injured. These people recover almost perfect function. But, see below.
Stroke: Big or small
Minor strokes, mini-strokes, small strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are one and the same. TIAs are common events characterized by stroke symptoms that completely resolve. They were previously thought to be benign but research over the past decade has revealed the high risk of further strokes in these patients. Having a TIA is a risk factor for having a major stroke.
TIAs and strokes cause the same symptoms, such as paralysis (opposite side of body from the affected part of the brain) or sudden weakness or numbness. A TIA may also cause sudden dimming or loss of vision slurred speech and mental confusion. But unlike a stroke, the symptoms of a TIA can resolve within a few minutes or 24 hours. Brain injury may still occur in a TIA lasting only a few minutes, therefore it should not be ignored by patients, relatives or doctors. Small stroke is a warning from God!
Stroke is common in Nigeria
Every Nigerian knows someone within their family, on their street, at their place of work, village or town who has suffered a stroke. Stroke is next door and coming to a street near you! It is the most popular horror movie in life. That someone hale and hearty could suddenly go blind, deaf, become mute, have weakness on one side and die without prior warning is your worst nightmare. Stroke is a devastating illness, which maims and kills Nigerians daily.
Is there stroke in your family?
Has a member of your family suffered a stroke? Mine have, in large numbers. Many people in my family have suffered devastating strokes and I am trying everyday to prevent stroke in myself. I run, jog, do sports, exercise and watch what I eat on a daily basis. Any indulgence, eating the biggest meat in the pot, the most amount of food, fat or oily food etc is frowned at in my family.
The risk of further strokes in higher in families with a history of stroke. If your father, brother or sister has had a stroke, be very careful. Similarly, history of hypertension, diabetes and heart attacks are important as risk factors for stroke in the family.
Can you afford a stroke?
We are not managing stroke well at all. We do not have the emergency numbers and ambulance services to deliver patients to hospitals within an hour of a stroke, so doctors can at least try to reopen the blocked vessels in the brain. We do not have the clot bursting drugs for removing the obstruction. Brain scans and other required tests cost an arm and a leg (pun intended). We do not have the means to investigate and treat acute stroke without asking for money.
So, if you come to one of Nigeria’s premier hospitals without as much as N100, 000 (One hundred thousand Naira), you may not get the immediate life saving care you need. Many come with just prayers and a breath expecting miracles.
Open a stroke account
It is vital to prevent stroke. If you don’t, you might as well open an account where you can save money should you suffer a stroke! The minimum deposit is N100, 000 but please save as much as N3, 000, 000. (three million Naira only). Regardless, just because you can afford it, is no excuse to have a stroke! What if you cannot write a cheque or even remember the account password? So, please look after your blood pressure, control diabetes, stop smoking, lose weight, exercise and keep fit.
Dr Biodun Ogungbo, Consultant Neurosurgeon in Abuja is a UK General Medical Council Registered Specialist in Neurosurgery and Nigerian Medical and Dental Council registered Surgeon. He has extensive surgical repertoire in elective and emergency surgery. He supports medical education and is active in health advocacy. He is interested in stroke and spine problems and has written extensively about these conditions.