During the last festivities I travelled to my village Igbere in Abia State. I attended the funeral service of the teacher, who taught me in class six in the early 70s. He was 82 years old. In the funeral programme and oration it was stated that “he died after a brief illness”. Hold on a second, I said to myself, “but I treated him regularly for some chronic illnesses”.
Let me illustrate. From 1999 to 2007, I was the Government House Physician and coordinator of Abia State Free Medical Health Programme, established by Gov Orji Uzor Kalu. I was working with National-Youth-Corp-doctors from all over Nigeria, who did not understand or speak a word in Igbo language. So they worked through interpretations. I usually addressed the crowd in each ward before consultations. Telling them to get one-page-medical report of their pre-existing health conditions from their doctors, or health officers before our next visit. Since we had large crowds to contend with, minimal time, and a lot of elderly patients, including my recently buried former class 6 teacher. The medical reports simplified things for non-Igbo-speaking corper-doctors. It also stated what illnesses they have had in the past. Then an idea germinated inside me.
Do you know that if we keep medical records in Nigeria, like they do in USA, UK and other European countries, we could prolong the lives of most of our elderly parents and relatives. This past December, I attended a lot of funeral services of the elderly. Most of them above 70, usually it was stated that each of them “died after a brief illness”, because nobody kept or knew their medical records.
How can someone die after a brief illness? What illness is that? The rhetorical question becomes. What then killed him? Since he died after the illness. Medical reports will tell us whether the person died of genetic or inherited illnesses, so that doctors could start early management on the siblings left behind.
In United Kingdom, one General Practitioner (GP), manages one person in a lifetime. If for any happenstance, management is to change hands, all medical records are transferred through files, computers and films at the touch of a button to the new physician.
I want to start a revolution in Nigeria. A revolution I had already started in my hospital, by following the trend overseas, where all my patients’ medical records are computerised, and sent to the world wide web(www). So that at the touch of a button you could download their details, even when they visit doctors overseas.
Yes, a real revolution against us the elites. So that we stop treating our elders as ornaments, and doctors will stop treating patients as cases. We have to show our humanity. Let me explain. An elite, will travel to their village, take his elderly father, mother or relatives, to the best hospitals in Abuja, Lagos, Aba, abroad etc. After treatment and recovery, their parents are sent back to the villages without medical records. Then if the parents unfortunately falls ill again, or becomes unconscious, they are rushed to the nearest local hospital, to doctors who had no idea, who they are, or what they are suffering from.
The doctor will now rely on second-hand-history of a maid or distant relatives to tell the medical history of our parents. Of course when they die shortly, before the doctors could figure out what was wrong with our parents. We brazenly write(especially for our father), during funeral service – “he died after a brief illness “. How callous and insensitive. Now we should concentrate on disease prevention, instead of treatment.
How do we embark on disease prevention and health promotion?
Every parent must read this. We have three categories of preventive medicine, which everyone must practice vis Primary, Secondary & Tertiary.
1) • Primary Prevention – aims to remove or reduce disease risks, example immunisations, giving up or not starting smoking, giving up or not starting excessive alcohol consumption.
2) • Secondary Prevention – these techniques promote early detection of diseases or precursor states eg routine Papanicolaou screening to detect carcinoma or dysplasia of the cervix. Lump examination or mammography to detect breast cancer.
3) • Tertiary Prevention ; These measures are aimed at limiting the impact of established diseases, examples – a) Partial mastectomy and radiation therapy, to remove and control localised breast cancer. b) Surgical removal of Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy(BPH), to prevent its becoming cancerous.
New medical rules.
i) ¤ Open a medical file today, for every member of your family. The files must be kept where they must be accessible to every member of the house 24/7. They must never be locked up.
ii) Each time any of your family is sick that necessitates seeing a doctor. Ask the doctor to write you a medical report. Tell the doctor you are taking your child/father/mother/relative abroad for follow up treatment, so that the medical report will be comprehensive. Put the report in the person’s file when you get home.
iii) ¤ When your parents are going back to the village, send the medical reports along with them. You will not know how many lives you will save, and the lives you will prolong by this singular act.
iv) In case of an emergency, with the medical report, the new doctor who does not know your parents from Adam and Eve, will know where and how to commence their treatments. Open the files today. Remain medically guided.
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