News The African Way

Mrs. Aisha Buhari’s Health Screening Exercises For Underserved Nigerians

By Aisha Bunu

Since the assumption of Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria, Mrs. Aisha Buhari has focused her attention on issues that affect Women and children who are the most vulnerable in the society.

Mrs. Buhari understands that the role of women in every society cannot be over emphasized, therefore, their health and well being should be enhanced in order for them to make meaningful contribution both in political and economic participation for national development. She has for many years made her contribution in this regard through the Aisha Buhari Foundation.

Her realization of the depth of health challenges faced by women and children prompted her to found a platform called Future Assured. Through this platform, she has been travelling from state to state across the country to build partnerships with stakeholders, and to contribute in providing an enabling environment for the implementation of basic public health programmes and awareness creation on health issues.

As a result of the partnerships she has entered into, it became easier to identify what health problem is prevalent in each state, and what contribution a platform like hers can offer. Future Assured has so far identified many of these medical problems which are women killers. These include breast cancer, cervical cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, malaria, and sickle cell anaemia. The morbidity and mortality rate is very high in the country due to these preventable diseases.

Diabetes is one of the critical health challenges identified, it is a chronic disease of high blood glocuse which can result in serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. Cases have been on the increase in the past few years. In Nigeria, about 5 Million people are still living with diabetes, while more than 1.5 Million cases of diabetes were recorded in 2015. Also, 40,815 deaths due to diabetes were recorded in adults in 2016. These figures are sure to drop with adequate awareness, especially among those that are vulnerable.

Another women killer is Cancer. In Nigeria about 10,000 cancer deaths and 250,000 new cases are recorded annually.  Cancer results from abnormal growth of cells that have the ability to spread to other part of the body. There are many types of cancer. But of all the types, breast and cervical cancer affect women the most.

Take breast cancer, for example; the first notable symptom of breast cancer is a lump that feels different from the rest of the breast tissue; one breast becoming larger or lower than the other; a nipple changing position or its shape becoming inverted. There could also be some discharge from the nipples, or constant pain in parts of the breast, or even rashes on or around a nipple.

Screening of the breast regularly can help in early detection which, in-turn will help achieve early prevention. The mission of Future Assured is to alert women to be conscious of their bodies and train themselves to perform simple self-examination of their breast in order to stay safe.

Cervical cancer is another type that affects the cervix. It has no early symptoms; later symptoms may however include vaginal bleeding. Therefore, cervical cancer screening would help in early detection using Pap smear or acetic acid, quick intervention usually prevents its spread.

Late detection in both types of cancer is still a major challenge, Therefore awareness creation is still the way out.

Hepatitis, sickle cell and other related ailments are blood-related. It is therefore important that people have knowledge of their genotype. Genotype is the collection of genes passed from parents to children. In order to avoid these killer diseases, it has been advised that couples check their genotype before marriage; this will help them avoid having children who may live very sick lives or even die in infancy. Parents should also check the genotype of their children during pregnancy and also after birth.

High blood pressure also known as hypertension is another killer that puts people at the risk of stroke and kidney failure. The disease is on the rise in Nigeria and is a massive killer. The major challenge of hypertension is that people are not aware of the necessity for, or cannot afford regular blood pressure checks.

Another is Malaria, which is endemic in Nigeria with 300,000 deaths per year and 100 million cases. Nigeria bears up to 25% of malaria disease burden in Africa, making the country the highest in malaria mortality. Malaria is a treatable and preventable disease that remains a major killer of children. Malaria in pregnant women causes anemia and other complications in both mother and newborn. Malaria is caused by blood parasites from person to person through the bites of infected mosquitoes.

It is because of the gravity of these diseases that Future Assured decided to advocate for government to pay more attention to these killers, and to conscientize women on the need to understand the danger of these diseases and screen themselves from time to time.  In order to show example to the stakeholders and pass the message to women, screening exercises were planned, organized and conducted in states, in collaboration with local NGOs. So far, screenings have held in eight states; these are Cross River, Adamawa, Katsina, Enugu, Nasarawa, Ogun, Oyo and Kogi. It is intended that such screenings will hold in all states of the country.

In consideration of the important of the sense of sight, and the rate at which people are becoming blind, Eye examination was included in the list of ailments for which women were screened. Doctors have recommended tests at least every 2 years. The Eye examination provides accurate assessment of the ability to see, and gauges the general health of the eyes. Eye examination can result in early identification of other eye -related problems.

In each of the states listed above, an average of 2000 women have benefitted from these screening exercises; and these are bound to change their own lives and the lives of their friends, spouses and children. Gradually, the practice of self-screening will become the norm, while the number of women lost to these killers will drop considerably.

In fact, Mrs. Buhari has secured two mobile clinics in order to ease access to the most difficult to reach areas around the FCT for the purpose of these health screenings. The plan is to have these mobile clinics deployed to all the six geo-political zones of the country.

When this happens, Future Assured and Mrs. Aisha Buhari would have succeeded in their purpose of making a difference in the lives of women in Nigeria.


Aisha Bunu writes from the Office of the Wife of the President

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