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Barbara Akinbuwa: Do You Have a ‘Pension Plan’ For Your Health?

Of the five leading causes of death in adults in Nigeria, only cardiovascular diseases and accidents cause sudden deaths. We are all familiar with road traffic accidents and how they occur. So, the question is, what are cardiovascular diseases and how do they cause sudden death?

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Almost everyone knows someone or has heard of someone who died at the prime of their lives. The typical stories surrounding these deaths are not farfetched. “Mr X died on the spot in a road accident” or “Mr Y died suddenly, a few hours or days after complaining of a mild illness.” The most dramatic or typical one is “Mr Z just collapsed suddenly during some activity”. Some cases even go as far as “he died before they could get him to the hospital”, “he was admitted and asked to do some tests and died while on admission” or even worse, “the doctors and nurses at the hospital didn’t attend to him on time.”

To explain the cause of the death, the friend, neighbour or co-worker telling the story is bound to add: “it’s not natural”, “it’s witchcraft or remote control”, “his village people” or – as it is described in common parlance in Nigeria – “he was poisoned”. What then follows is speculation as to who wanted any of these individuals dead and why.

For a moment, let’s look at the leading causes of death among adults all over the world and compare this to the leading causes of death among adults in Nigeria (courtesy World Health Organisation and Centre for Disease Control)

Causes of death worldwide

  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Chronic Lung diseases
  • Pneumonia
  • Dementia
  • Lung cancer
  • Causes of death in Nigeria
  • Tuberculosis & HIV/AIDS
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Accidents

The leading cause of death amongst adults all over the world is Cardiovascular Disease. Of the five leading causes of death in adults in Nigeria, only cardiovascular diseases and accidents cause sudden deaths. We are all familiar with road traffic accidents and how they occur. So, the question is, what are cardiovascular diseases and how do they cause sudden death? They are diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels so that blood supply to the organs in the body is stopped or reduced. Imagine a pipe blocked by dirt or sand or even broken. These two scenarios can occur in the blood vessels; a partially blocked vessel supplies less blood while total blockage or a ruptured blood vessel means blood supply is cut off completely. If blood supply to certain vital organs is stopped completely, it would result in death. If it is reduced, the person falls ill but could recover with proper treatment. When the brain is affected, it becomes a stroke. When the kidneys are affected, it causes kidney failure and when the heart is affected, it’s a heart attack – AKA cardiac arrest.

When any of these road accidents or cardiovascular diseases occur, medical treatment received in the first few hours is critical to survival. Nigeria lacks an ambulance service and emergency treatment is inadequate in most hospitals for a myriad of reasons. Patients who survive usually require long term or lifelong treatment, which is expensive (ever seen a GoFundMe for dialysis or kidney transplant?).

Prevention is the logical solution since if one doesn’t have an accident or develop cardiovascular disease; this way, the need for specialized care – that may not even be available locally – does not arise. This is the premise for investing in one’s health. When we make a financial investment, we put in time, skill or money in order to reap monetary rewards or profit. With health, it is a little different; time, effort and money are used to ensure that one feels and performs optimally at each stage of life.

The investment is in different forms:

  • Spending time to get some education about a health condition (and how to prevent it).
  • Putting into practice some of the behavioural or lifestyle changes required to decrease the risk of getting said ailment.
  • Getting periodic (usually yearly) health checks necessary to detect early signs of disease.

To prevent road traffic accidents, every road user should learn about the rules guiding driving, the safety of other road users, as well as traffic signs before obtaining a driver’s license. “The Revised Highway code” containing these details was published by the Federal Road Safety Commission in 1997. The mandatory driver’s test – before getting your first driver’s license – is the second part to ensure one has mastered and imbibed the safe practices in the highway code. The periodic checks – which is the third part – should be done during the renewal of one’s driving license.

The same can be said for your health. For prevention of cardiovascular diseases, education about conditions that put one at risk: hypertension, diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking is required. Next is putting into practice the needed lifestyle changes: diet, exercise, weight loss, etc that reduce or control these factors. The difficulty with starting and sustaining these lifestyle changes is that they’re supposed to prevent something one doesn’t even have yet. In other words, it’s difficult to measure one’s achievements. So, most people settle for number three, which is getting periodic health checks. The problem with this is that without healthy lifestyle practices, getting periodic health checks is like presenting yourself to get caught and then rejoicing if you have a lucky escape.

Investing in health is usually for intermediate or long-term benefits. Losing weight, reduction of blood pressure or blood sugar or becoming physically fit does not happen overnight. As humans, we tend to prefer instant gratification – one more mouthful of that chocolate cake or ice cream, sleep now and keep putting off that exercise routine – the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak kind of scenario.

It’s easier sometimes to stay on track with the healthier but seemingly less pleasant choices if you know your why (get the requisite knowledge). The number one motivator, however, is the value you place on your life or health. How important is it for you to be healthy when you are aged. Or don’t you plan or hope to live long?

Another way to look at it is in the context of pension. Do you think you need a pension when you retire? Are you currently contributing to your pension every month? If yes, why?

Finally, what pension plan do you have for your body? Or, don’t you think the time would come?

Dr Barbara Akinbuwa is the brains behind The Diabetes Directory (www.thediabetesdirectory.org) - a brand dedicated to helping patients and their families create beautiful moments together by providing them with education and support. She is a commonwealth alumnus, avid reader and unapologetic daddy’s girl who enjoys having fun with her family.

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