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Wall of silence

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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.

*Patience Jonathan

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.

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