Poverty, lack of exposure and illiteracy in our dear country cause issues of health to take a back burner in many respects. When it comes to personal wellness, health and hygiene, for many underprivileged people, it is a ‘copy and paste’ situation.
Many take the same medicine for different ailments either to save costs or because they don’t know better:
Mama, I have headache and migraine; Swallow agbo
Ah, e be like say you done get apollo (conjunctivitis)? Swallow agbo.
Typhoid Fever? Make it 2 doses of agbo.
Your lover broke your heart, and you feel like Cupid struck you with a poisoned arrow? Chew agbo.
If you are far away from home, and feeling home-sick. Consume agbo.
Yes o. When I was a kid, I had this aunt who believed the purgative medicines like Milk of Magnesia (M & M) could cure all ailments. Bottoms up!
If you had malaria, you would hide it from Aunty ‘Laxative’, because she would administer a huge ladle spoonful into your mouth. M & M tastes like kola and bitter-leaf juice. Times 100.
That one no concern my Aunty o. My mother was out of town, and I had the misfortune of falling ill. Aunty rubbed her hands with glee. And she nearly got me killed by making me swallow a purgative medicine for 3 straight days, until I started really relapsing. Obviously, she did not believe in ‘if symptoms persist after 3 days…’
It was later discovered that I had the flu.
One day when I was a bit older, I mustered the courage to ask her ‘Aunty why do you take purgative medicines for all manners of ailments?’
Looking at me with disdain, she sucked her teeth as she slapped her tummy ‘ It is because all illnesses come from the belly. If you fall sick, it means that a disease had made your stomach rotten…’
I felt sick to my stomach already, hearing that.
To cut corners from having to pay exorbitant hospital bills, many Nigerians patronize ‘over the counter’ pharmacists popularly known as ‘chemists’. Nigeria is perhaps the only country in the world where you get offered drugs of varying potency to suit your pocket like you were choosing between a 4 cylinder or a V6 engine automobile at a car sales showroom.
‘Madam this antibiotics medicine get Singapore one and original one. The original one na 700 naira and get power well well. The Singapore one na 300 naira. Na imitation, so if you rub am for body, your boil fit take like 40 days and 40 nights before e go clear from your body. The packet no carry instructions, so make you rub am anytime your body dey scratch you.’
Na wa o.
And these ‘chemists’ also have flexible buying arrangements too. They could sell you a sachet of 8 tablets from within a pack of pills; I have even seen one sell a customer a tea-spoon of Chemiron Blood Tonic syrup. It was liquid contents only, and the spoon was returned to the packet of syrup for re-use by the next customer.
If you have not already read it, I would recommend my previous article on drug abuse in Nigeria – ‘Pump Pump and the Scramble for Lekki.’
As we become a country whose middle and upper class citizens want to boogie to the latest music jams, appear on the red carpet at glam events in what is fast becoming the ‘Aladdin syndrome’ and spend cash of luxuries, health is taking a backseat. In many arguments or debates about how best Nigeria is to move forward under GEJ’s tutelage, power generation and job creation seem to be the top priorities. What about health?
The first step to creating a healthy populace is controlling the way medicines are taken. In our dear country, we sabi abuse medicines sha.
Growing up in the grim 80s, my recollections of government health initiatives are blurry. I remember government sponsored infomercials promoting ORT (Oral Rehydration Therapy) as a treatment for diarrhea during pregnancy. It was a popular jingle, not just for the message itself, but for how the man pronounced therapy as ‘therakpi’ in his thick Yoruba accent.
I also remember when the sex education adverts came to town.
The first one I can remember is where a randy chap tries to bone this really dark sister, and she nervously says ‘ I am scared.’ She pronounced the ‘scared’ in a really funny way like how Chingy says ‘herre’.
The condom ads were the worst. Gold Circle ads always looked kinda dodgy and always seem to make it look like the viewer was a perv in the first place for opting for a ‘balloon’ contraceptive. The lass in the advert was always the unwilling party while the guy was a sex-hungry beast. Nigerian women apparently are not supposed to want sex and they dare not produce a rubber. Like you, ashewo, you.
One particular advert was really corny. It was a radio advert, and you heard what sounded like a Papa Ajasco character propose to a love interest ‘ Baby abeg come now, make we go jiggy jiggy..’
The girl’s reply was classic. She abused the hell out of the man, as if he had just asked her to kill for him.
Jiggy jiggy? What a lexicon!
Most times, even the names of diseases, the contraception could help prevent were barely mentioned or were generalized as ‘other yama yama diseases.’
The period of the dodgy condom ads were nothing compared to the female genital mutilation (FGM) ones. They were like scenes from a horror movie. The adverts featured a group of old village women holding down an adolescent female, while one of the women produced a brand new razor blade. The blade wielding granny dug her hands into the young girl’s wrapper, and amidst the girl’s screams, performs the crude operation. The next scene is very graphic and almost distasteful. The cutter is seen with blood all over her hands as she is gripping the teen’s clitoris with a triumphant look on her face. All these on national TV.
You get the feeling that despite some of these adverts and public service announcements, our governments over the years have done precious little in the area of health issues in this country. Cancer is the new malaria and it is a farce that people still get chicken pox in this country. Most people still rely on quack doctors, ‘chemists’ and old wives tales; and some people who know better are handcuffed by financial constraints. Educating the public is one thing but knowledge and awareness do not pay hospital bills.
Cancer and stroke are still regarded by some as a Chief or big man’s ailment. When a poor man suffers any of the above, people would claim that his enemies have ‘winched’ him.
Health in Nigeria has to be revamped from the ground up. Over to you, Oga Presido GEJ.
Before I go, here are some random thoughts and experiences regarding health and the taking of medicine in Nigeria.
- There is a belief among some men that a combination of a Power Horse Energy Drink and Ijebu Garri can boost sexual performance and proficiency. I don’t know about this one. You cannot give a magnificent performance by re-writing Okafor’s laws of chemistry by combining cassava flakes and an energy drink even if it is Red Bull. No, it won’t give you wings. You may be better off trying to seduce your lass by singing Maxwell’s Pretty Wings in her ears. To be fair, I do not still know whether eating a Mango and then drinking garri is dangerous as people claim. Why would someone even want to do that in the first place?
Another popular tip for boosting sperm count and fertility is to blend Guinness, raw eggs and milk thereby creating a potent protein shake. My tip? You may want to give that to the girl instead.
2. The ignorance of some average Nigerian fellas when it comes to using protection and contraception is alarming. Hearing that abstinence is the only fool-proof protection since condoms give about 98% protection against STDs, one chap shrugged his shoulders. This guy slept with anything walking and wasn’t about to change his lifestyle. He said he betters his odds by wearing 2 condoms at the same time, to eliminate the 2% risk. His reasoning is that 98% + 98% = 196%. This is better than 100%. Ok o. What about your spiritual health?
My cousin knows someone who swears that washing his jimmy with his urine after unprotected sex mitigates any risks by neutralizing the virus or bacteria. That is a piss-poor remedy if you ask me. It wouldn’t work with Lagos ‘runs girls’ o.
3. The general public, especially in Lagos, should be educated. Please do not try or attempt to move someone who has been in an okada bike accident; the accident victim could get more hurt from internal bleeding in such cases. Normally after an accident occurs, you would see a mammoth crowd gather around the scene, and then some people would elect to move or try to stand the victims. I once saw a malo chap who had been struck by a bus. People were trying to force ‘pure water’ down his throat. He was spitting blood, so a man tried to move him. His limbs seemed shattered to me as they looked a bit bandy, though he was not bleeding on the outside. Some other passer-bys were trying to stand him up, even though he looked subconscious and in serious shock. Another person attempted to stretch and bend the victim’s limbs, and the latter was yelling in pain. One man giving directions to the person doing the bending ‘Make you try bend him leg straight, make the bone set small.’ Bend a leg ‘straight?! Is that even physically possible? Only a winch can do that na.
Why the hell do they always try to give victims ‘pure water’ in Nigeria? Someone has just been in a fatal crash and a passerby just shoves water in a sachet in their faces, like it is some magical elixir.
Here are a few examples:
- a chap got electrocuted while trying to illegally ‘tap’ light ‘from a NEPA pole.
As he lay on the floor in ‘shock’ (no pun intended), his neighbors brought him
‘pure water’ to drink away the pain.
- Two 8-year olds started vomiting after coming in from playing outside. It was discovered that they had been playing ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ by pretending to ‘cook’ and chew leaves and flowers from the plants in the garden. The domestic servant administered 2 doses of ‘pure water’ before phoning their mum who was at work. Now the kids had cholera as well as food poisoning to contend with. (By the way, I hear palm oil works a treat for cases of poisoning). Don’t quote me on this though!
Nigerians should have access to free training in first-aid and basic resuscitation techniques, like other developed countries so that not all emergencies would become fatalities. I would give you a few local examples I have heard though: if you swallow a large fish bone, while enjoying a sumptuous meal of ground rice and ogbono soup, swallow a large lump of eba. It works if drinking water does not.
If you feel like throwing up after eating a meal without enough pepper, chew raw garri.
4. Regulate the sale of potent medicines over the counter. Nigeria is the only country in the world, where anyone has access to any types of medicines no matter their strength. No prescription is required. One chap who lived in Jand made a pretty penny anytime when he came to Nigeria one summer. He was over-joyed one day when he discovered that a pharmacy close to his house sold Viagra. All you needed was cash. He bought a very big box and took it to his school in Jand to sell.
There are people here who are regularly ‘sipping on some syrup’. When I was a kid, there was this boy whose mum used to give him Multivite as a treat if he was good. Multivite had a lovely sweet taste. Lucky him – my mum used wielded the stick not the carrot. If you behaved badly, you had beans for lunch and for dinner. That’s how I managed to grow tall because I was never good. Nne dalu biko.
5. People should be educated about hygiene and how to control parasites that cause diseases.
In Health Science class back in primary school, we were taught what insects or parasites caused which diseases. It was an amusing subject for me as I discovered that health science was very discriminatory. For example, we learned that the male mosquito is people-friendly and merely sings in your ear, so it can get a pass from your fly swap. It is the female you should machine-gun to death with your can of Baygon or Raid. It carries the anopheles parasite that causes Malaria. So net the male, but spray insecticide on the female. This sexism extends to insects, eh? By the way, I kill both.
For cockroaches, use a color code instead. Brown roaches should be stepped upon or smacked with your ‘silpas’ or shoe. However, stay away from the white ones which could cause leprosy. Heaven forbid if the ‘water’ from their insides touched your skin as you tried to swat one. Just go to your village to give them your burial date. So there is also racism in the cockroach kingdom, eh? Kill the brown skins and spare the oyibo roaches. Doctors and biologists, please explain o.
And what about scorpions? Run away from all of them whether black or white.
I built a tolerance for drugs, addicted to the medicine/
Now hospital emergency treat me like a fiend/
Prodigy (You Can Never Feel My Pain, 2000)