Nigeria joined the rest of the world to observe this year’s World Stroke Day on October 29. The country accounts for 200,000 of the global 17 million stroke cases annually. Stroke is also said to be responsible for eight out of every 10 neurological hospital admissions in the country, just as it is the second largest cause of preventable deaths worldwide. These damning data were made available by Professor Yemi Ogun, President of the Nigeria Stroke Organisation, at an event to mark the day.
The good news, however, is that the killer condition is preventable and manageable if detected on time and sufficient care is taken to avoid the things that trigger and worsen it. That is why we join Ogun in calling on all levels of government and other relevant support agencies to put a premium on public education. The people should be enlightened on the simple things that can lead to stroke and how to avoid them. Like in all matters that require the application of wisdom and timely action, much-needed funds and a lot of man hours would be saved for the nation by a healthier citizenry.
There are habits that predispose people to stroke, but how many of our ordinary citizens know them? This is where government and its agencies must carry out public enlightenment programmes to ensure that the right message is presented in simple formats that the people can understand. Effective public enlightenment should cover the whole nation and all segments of society, not leaving out people in the rural areas and targeting the media that is available to them.
One of the most important things that should be communicated to the people is the need for all adults to regularly check their blood pressure. In fact, checking for blood pressure should be routine and free. Closely related to this point is the need to check blood sugar. Excessively high or low blood sugar levels are both danger signs which must be dealt with quickly. It is important to note that most strokes are caused by hypertension which is not detected on time and managed effectively. That is why hypertension is regarded as a silent killer.
In this matter of preventing and managing stroke, lifestyle choices count. For example, smoking of cigarettes and other substances is known to dispose people to stroke. When adolescents and children in their formative years know this early enough, they would be careful to develop the right habits that can ensure their good health and prolong their lives.
Another very important point to note is the place of dietary habits in the management and prevention of stroke. What foods do our people eat and what are the constituents of the foods? What foods are best suited for particular age groups and genetic types? Since salt is a well-known causative factor for hypertension, how much salt should adults consume daily? These are questions which have to be answered by our health authorities and the information put in the public space for the benefit of all. What about the seemingly simple matter of exercise? Our lifestyles and work schedules mostly involve sitting for long hours and hardly moving around. We return home to our television sets, allowing very little or no time for exercise. This is not good for our health, if we want to avoid hypertension and stroke.
Africans have a lot of advantages in their dietary and medicinal options. History supports the point that in times past and long before the coming of the colonial masters and their civilisations, our forbears did not know much about these killer diseases. But, there were enough antidotes in our local foods and medicines that significantly reduced their chances of coming down with stroke. Rigorous farming, which was the major occupation of our people, also helped to meet their requirement for physical exercise. What we have failed to do is what the Chinese and other Asian countries do very well. They have refused to abandon their old traditions, habits and medications that served them very well in the face of new and foreign cultures.
Is it too late now to go back? We hope not. Government and our health experts have to come to the rescue. They have a responsibility to ensure that the people embrace healthy diets and lifestyles to decrease their chances of developing hypertension and stroke.