Published On: Mon, Nov 30th, 2015

Rising disease burden: Scientists canvass lifestyle changes, traditional medicines

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Health researchers across the country have unanimously submitted that except Nigerians desist from unhealthy habits and imbibe good hygiene practices, the country’s disease burden will continue to rise, rather than decline.

They also underscored the efficacy of traditional medicines, arguing that a lot of medicines developed from local medicinal plants had proved to be more efficacious in the treatment of malaria than synthetic ones.

The scholars made their submissions at the recent 6th Annual Scientific Conference of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), with the theme: “Ending the communicable and non-communicable diseases divide in Nigeria”.

They noted during the conference, which was declared opened by the Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, who was ably represented by the Delta State Commissioner for Health, Dr Nicholas Azinge, that rural-dwellers’ diseases are now commonly seen in the cities, due to negligence and ignorance on the part of the citizens.

Addressing the audience, chairman of the conference, Professor Maurice Iwu, said the unique feature of non-communicable diseases is that they mainly have to do with lifestyle management, listing conditions like cancer, diabetes, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases as health challenges brought about by people’s ways of lives. He said, “If you do not eat well and exercise regularly, you can’t be totally free from at least one of these diseases”.

In tackling the malaria burden in the country, which is one of the major diseases confronting Nigeria, the renowned scientist maintained that it is ignorance that makes most Nigeria medical doctors to   belittle locally-produced traditional medicines in the treatment of malaria.

His words: “It is lack of confidence and ignorance that make practitioners underplay the efficacy of our traditional medicine, which are unlike the orthodox medicines which you take today and tomorrow you are alright, but next tomorrow you are down again. When you are confident about what you have, you will be proud to showcase it anywhere in the world. Normally, when you are under-developed like we are, you have setbacks, and that is what we are experiencing now”.

Stressing the need for all to cultivate hygiene habits and reside in clean environments, Iwu asserted that all normal human beings have lots of parasites living in them.

“We are actually a collection of bacteria”, he said, buttressing the need to ensure cleanliness at all times.

Prof. Iwu, who is also president of the Bio-resources Group, charged the new administration of President Buhari to reposition NIMR as the national coordinating research institute, noting that volumes of researches conducted will amount to nothing in the nation without a coordinating institute to channel the studies through the right processes for impact.

Prof. (Mrs) Olaoluwa Akinwale, director of research (Neglected Tropical Diseases) and head, Molecular Parasitology Research Laboratory, Public Health Division, while delivering her lecture series titled: “From parasites to parasites: A parasitologist’s expedition”, explained that humans are hosts to nearly 300 species of parasitic worms and over 70 species of protozoa, some derived from primates and some acquired from domestic animals.

The industrious investigator, who had travelled far and wide to gain knowledge, stated that 30 per cent of the world’s population is infected with nematode Ascaris lumbriciodes, lamenting the unusual surge in the cases of parasitic diseases such as schistosomiasis and malaria.

Describing the effects of parasitic infections on human body, she said schistosomiasis makes children urinate blood, while causing bladder cancer in adults, making it a double-edged disease.

She added that the disease is most common in water-logged and riverine areas, where people lack social amenities and highly endemic communities.

On the way forward, she said that since adequate health is a legitimate right of every Nigerian, the government must endeavour to break the social-economic inequality among the populace, a situation in which the rich are getting richer, and the poor getting poorer.

Prof. Akinwale further recommended the formulation of health policies which will address the burden of these diseases, in order to forestall further degeneration in the nation’s health care system.

She also reiterated the need for a paradigm shift in behaviour and orientation, saying Nigerians should jettison the idea that “disease cannot kill a black man”. She equally stressed the need to desist from eating unwashed foods, as well as indiscriminate urinating and defecating.

In his message to the audience, Director General of NIMR, Prof. Innocent Ujah, explained the theme of the conference, saying it was chosen to stimulate discussions and generate ideas on the communicable and non-communicable diseases burdens confronting the nation.

“This conference is intended to bring policy makers, academia, researchers and clinical experts together to deliberate, share experiences and network on how best to end the dichotomy in policy planning and implementation with regard to communicable and non-communicable diseases in the face of dwindling funding for health care and limited qualified human resource”, he said.

The DG who expressed optimism that all the objectives of the conference would be achieved, mentioned that a total of 57 abstracts were submitted; while 22 were accepted for oral presentation, 24 were accepted for poster presentation and nine were rejected

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Rising disease burden: Scientists canvass lifestyle changes, traditional medicines