By Denrele Animasaun
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
In the last couple of weeks, you could not have failed to notice the media frenzy on the health of Patience Goodluck Jonathan; especially with the spin doctors and all the presidents’ men diagnosing Patience ‘s health status with all sorts of prognosis.
The Dubai media have now denied that Patience contracted food poisoning while she was on a trip there. So far, we know she was in Germany to remove her appendix, then the official line is that she has fibroids, it has been operated on and she is recovering in hospital.
There were murmurs that some well-wishers band of governors were told they could not visit Patience but yet, Jonathan wants the nation to pray for his wife. This pattern is not new in the black community. If I generalise, I do apologise as it is my intention not to make a sweeping statement especially on this subject matter.
One thing is clear: no matter what your status is – rich or poor, educated or illiterate – you do not want people to know your business. If you feel am evangelising here, please indulge me, I promise it will all make sense.
We often deny we have a health problem, then eventually we accept that something may be wrong then, that malevolent force is at play and that someone is responsible for our ill-health. The pattern is worrying as we delay seeking help, medical help, instead we seek divine intervention.
Don’t get me wrong, it is important to have strong religious beliefs but what I have experienced in my line of work is that, we often misplace our priority when it comes to seeking medical assistance and this delay costs lives.
As a health practitioner, specialising in Black minority health in South London, I find it frustrating that we, as a people, find it difficult to come forward and admit that we have health challenges and that we need help. The wall of silence is killing us more than the ailment that plagues us. We need to address this as a matter of urgency.
Talking about health in the black community is like trying to take blood from stone! When I come into a gathering and broach the subject of health care, it is like the parting of the waves, it is often felt, talking about ill health or related topics means that you are inviting ill-health upon yourself.
In the years since I set up the barbers and hairdressers network, going into these places to provide free blood pressure monitoring,raising awareness about the big five; Diabetes, High blood pressure, Sickle cell, Breast and Prostate cancers, I found that we need to be more innovative, tactfully engage our people about taking care of their health.And due to the success of the health programme, I was approached by a leading teaching hospital, in particular, their breast care unit.
They had a high number of woman from the West African countries with breast cancer. What was disturbing was that they turned up with large tumours and expected it to be removed so they can go back home and resume their lives. When the surgeons tell them that the prognosis is very poor, they cannot compute the prognosis, they forbade the team to share the information with their family (which is their right) so no one even in their close family knows, and therefore, cannot offer support.
They stop coming to the hospital and start attending church, seeking a miracle cure. Shortly after they die and the community is left to make sense of the their loss and put meaning to their loss. Sadly these cases are not isolated. It is happening home and abroad on a daily basis.
I had to explain to the Breast Care Team that they need to go out into the community and raise awareness about breast cancers and also make them understand the barriers that makes it difficult for these women. Erroneously it is believed that bad things only happen to bad people and such things as cancers do not happen to black people. That God forbid, no bad things happen to people who have faith; but it happens.
Lastly that there is nothing the power of prayer will not cure. Of course, we do not confide in people. We have managed to set in place a programme that medic go into mosques, churches and hairdressers to demonstrate how to self-examine your breast and provide information on what to do and where to get help.
One of our many successes include a woman who, as a result of the programme was able to get help with the removal of a small tumour in one of her breasts.
The silent killer is not the diseases that are prevalent in our society but the wall of silence we put up that prevents us from getting the help that we urgently need.
The fact is, most of us don’t seek help for our health. We have a problem that is endemic in our society and experience has taught me that education is key to reducing the stigma, taboo and miscommunication to reduce the unnecessary deaths of young, old and productive people in our society. The wall of silence has to come down.
Accepting one is sick is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith; on the contrary, it means that you are taking care of yourself in order for you to be around for your loved ones. We also need to nip this strong black woman myth in the bud. As a woman please, you put other people’s needs before yours and you neglect yours.