According to the Handbook of Resolutions and Decisions of the World Health Assembly and the Executive Board, early detection is an important aspect of disease control so that treatment could be given when the disease is still reversible. It’s therefore a step in the right direction when in 1974, the Executive Board of the WHO requested the Director-General to undertake “. . . the collation and evaluation of methods for the early detection of health impairments . . .” Early detection of diseases was further emphasized in the Programme of Action on Workers’ Health which was also endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 1980, 5 years before I was born.
It’s crystal clear that seeking early screening is not a new doctrine; but like The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, going for regular medical check-ups—voluntarily or otherwise—is an old message with contemporary relevance if the ever-rising incidences of preventable infections, diseases and other medical conditions that should have been detected earlier are anything to go by. This is a phenomenon that encompasses every country of the world despite imminent wealth differences, varied political ideologies and diversified religious affinities.
Every year, about 1.7 million Americans – male and female, and more than 150,000 Canadians (also of both sexes) are diagnosed with cancer. Also, more than half a million Americans and about 70,000 Canadians die of the disease. It’s also in the light of this truth that after more than two decades of global awareness, expended several billions of dollars and extensive campaigns, the most popular [and expensive] human infection of all time—HIV—remains a leading cause of mortality in numerous countries of the world while medical scientists are still struggling with the Herculean task of finding better ways to tackle the retrovirus. Africa, as usual, is the worst hit in most instances.
It’s a gospel truth that cholera, diphtheria, leprosy, malaria, tuberculosis, measles, meningitis, poliomyelitis, yellow fever, diarrhoea, sickle cell syndrome and other panels of disorders predominantly affect Africa (and Africans) than other continents of the world. This is due to a number of factors.
While warm climate, large population and paucity of limited resources are often the popular reasons for these poor health indices, the Great African Trepidation that is associated with hospital visits in several African countries is an issue that few nations, governments, health ministries, agencies and the media are considering. Seeking ways to tackle this could be the step in the right direction for African countries.
The goal of the primary, secondary and tertiary health care systems is to prevent diseases. It’s only when such task is impossible does finding cure become an important consolatory second option. This is why several preventive measures are put in place, especially at the grassroots to achieve the sole objective of preventing the preventable diseases of man. Such preventive measures include immunization, vaccination, chemoprophylaxis, usage of insecticide-treated nets (to prevent malaria), frequent medical examinations, hygiene and proper sanitation. In most cases, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, these preventive measures are often made available for free; thus exonerating poverty as the reason for Africa’s illnesses.
Widespread misinformation is one of the potent forces that are militating against qualitative preventive health care in Africa. As disheartening as it might sound, lots of people still don’t believe that HIV/AIDS is here with us in Africa hence they don’t even think of getting screened. Also, voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) is still characterized with an understandable yet unimaginable nostalgia. As medical personnel, I’ve come in contact with potential blood donors who intend to commit suicide if they test positive for HIV. Also, people in the remotely rural areas of Africa are still drinking water from streams and lakes, ponds and rivers, while the several of the so-called African urban centres are without the necessary basic primary health care facilities. On the overview, pursuing good health lifestyle is basically an individual decision which leads to active action.
Imagine the number of ladies that would saved from the un-foretold yet devastating experience that is associated with breast cancer if they learn how to do self-breast examination and astutely perform the procedure every now and then; or those that would be helped if they present themselves for Pap smear to detect cervical cancer. Men are not left out, not many African men know much about prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer after skin cancer, and the second most common cause of cancer deaths, after lung cancer, in men living in the United States and Canada. It also has a high incidence in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and several other African countries.
Although the specific mechanisms that lead to the development of prostate cancer are still unknown, several risk factors have been identified that increase the chances of developing the disease. Researches in various countries of the world have shown that incidence increases with age—prostate cancer seldom develops before the age of 40; two out of three cases occur in men over the age of 65. It is most common in North America and in north-western Europe but rare in South America, the Near East, and Africa.
Few African men think of prostate cancer when have difficulties during urination; urinate frequently, especially at night; or see blood in their urine or semen. Internalization of medical problems is the order of the day, and when they decide to open up, it’s usually to the wrong people – the tradomedical practitioners who further exploit them without remedying the health condition.
The solution to this age-long debacle is for everyone to realize that the most fundamental asset in life is the body. No artificial procedure or technology can replace at 100 per cent efficiency what nature has so generously granted: good health; and losing it means losing everything – loved ones, material resources and peace of mind. A medical check-up by responsible and experienced medical team will give Africans and everyone great opportunities for the forthcoming future. For those that are afraid of needles, there are non-invasive complete check-ups in order to determine what is malfunctioning in the organs. The solution to health problems can thus be integrally focused on time thus saving one from the had-I-known scenarios.
In The Anatomy of Melancholy, English scholar and churchman – Robert Burton (1577 – 1640) said that “diseases crucify the soul of man, attenuate our bodies, dry them, wither them, shrivel them up like old apples [and] make them so many anatomies”. But I want to add that before all these happen, signs are given. These signs are opportunities for us to do something to prevent the eventual outcomes. But these signs can only be detected, and analysed when we show up at clinics for medical screening which few of us love doing. However, if we have to be sick to go for check-ups, then sicknesses are not bad since they help in identifying insidious ailments that are capable of punctuating life at its peak.
Image via Colonelspeaks