By Odera Ekwunife
I am a daughter, I am a sister, I am a wife, I am a niece, I am a granddaughter, I am an aunt, and most importantly, I am a woman. I am an African woman who does it all, and then some.
Dear African women, there is something I need to get off my chest. I have a simple question, and want a simple answer.
Why are so many of us dying?
It seems every time I tune to African health news, there is a story of a Mama Bisi in Ajegunle who lost her daughter to cervical cancer, or Sister Nneka in Owerri hysterical over her late mother lost to breast cancer. And the stories continue.
My people, I ask again, why are we dying? Dr. Paul Farmer once argued that “no one should have to die of a disease that is treatable”. To me, it is simply unacceptable that our women continue to have the highest rates of preventable diseases and death because of the country they reside in; a country where lack of access, economic barriers and cultural norms continue to determine the status of the health of its people. Nigeria, a country where women’s health often falls by the wayside to “more important” sectors, i.e.: the oil industry, although we have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world (Source: UNFPA). Yes, there are many campaigns targeting more common diseases such as malaria and typhoid in our country, and kudos to them. However, it’s high time we regained a focused effort on the increase of quality of life and health optimization for this population. Coincidently, the UN’s 2015 Millennium Developmental Goal 5 (MDG 5), specifically addressing maternal and reproductive health, has been largely unmet worldwide. Hmm, I wonder why.
We need to understand and appreciate the importance of eliminating women’s health disparities in our communities and nation as a whole.
But, why the emphasis on women? Well, being a woman is a gift and true responsibility. Every woman has a right to a complete and comprehensive understanding of her health and achieving wellness throughout all stages of life. In our culture, we are undeniably the foundation that families and communities are built upon. Our wisdom, experience, and graceful ways are what people, from the time they are attached to our bosoms, till when they become members of the real world, yearn for. Subconsciously in this role however, our health arguably takes a backseat. It becomes a chore almost, and not a priority. It’s high time we change these norms and get back on track with our health optimization.
The beauty of health is that it does not only comprise of one’s physical well being, but also involves social, emotional, spiritual, and environmental development. We are multi-faceted beings and to attain our optimal health potential, all aspects of life must be involved.
You see, the adage “prevention is better than cure” should be more applicable now than ever before! With the advancement in research, increased health promotion, and widespread global campaigns, there is a wealth of knowledge available to all populations. Or so it would seem. The reality in many developing nations is that they are still in dire need of public health dissemination, the “active spread of effective health promoting behaviors, policies, and organizational practices” (Source: UW). Who will enter a local village in Onitsha and teach our indigenous mothers of the importance of a breast self exam (BSE) and what to do if a lump is found? Who will travel to Ibadan and host a class on Pap smear screening, and understanding test results? We have a moral obligation to get our health back on track. In Nigeria, this can be done in a variety of ways: raising awareness, health advocacy, volunteerism, self efficacy, and the list goes on.
This is a Call to Action, a “return to health,” so to speak. What is your health worth? How conscious are you of reducing your risks to chronic disease? Are you willing to engage in positive health behaviors? Will you be the catalyst in your community to empower other women to do the same? The World Health Organization emphasizes that “improving women’s health matters to women, to their families, and to communities and societies at large. When we improve women’s health, we improve the world”.
It’s time for a paradigm shift to what really matters, your health, body, and well being; the common denominator for a people, no matter the location, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion and all other factors differentiating us from each other.
Healthy is definitely the new sexy, and prevention is key.
(May 28, 2013 is International Day of Action for Women’s Health. Take a stand!)
Writer: Odera Ifeoma Ekwunife is an MPH student with a passion for women and children’s health. She is the Founder of HealthyGist, www.healthygist.com, a new non-profit organization dedicated to empowering women of all ages to achieve optimal health and wellness through preventive care, education, advocacy, and service. She also serves as a Healthy Teen Scholar facilitator at ISCOPES and is a member of the National Organization of Urban MCH Leaders. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @simplyIfeoma.