A doctor checking the heart beat of a patient
By Chioma Obinna
It is no longer news that more Nigerians are dying suddenly. Just recently, some prominent Nigerians joined the league of sudden death victims. They include two former national football coaches, Stephen Keshi, who died at 54, and Shuaibu Amodu, who passed on at 58; as well as the All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship candidate in Kogi State, Prince Abubakar Audu. Investigation showed unreported cases of a lot more people dying on daily basis.
The rise in sudden deaths is becoming too common in the country almost every Nigerian knows somebody who has had a stroke, or died suddenly.
Why is sudden death on the rise? Although, medical experts say many factors fuel it such as non- communicable diseases, NCDs, including diabetes; hypertension and obesity, coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke are increasing. There have been speculation that the rise in sudden deaths may be caused by the current harsh economic situation due to job losses, non-payment of salaries, rising cost of goods and services, persistent fuel scarcity, abysmal electricity power supply, among others.
Meanwhile, a school of thought believes that sometimes these deaths are diabolical, meaning that they are caused by witch-craft and enemies. The belief has continued to hamper accurate statistics and treatment of coronary heart disease which cardiologists have declared a public health concern.
But health watchers are of the view that though daily challenges could be contributors, there are a lot more causes. According to them, there is need for Nigerians to embrace evidence-based approach, by conducting post-mortem when a person dies to erase doubts and help to find solution.
According to experts, sudden cardiac death is an unexpected natural event so devastating to the society but, unfortunately, in most cases, post-mortem examination, which is the hallmark of accurate diagnosis, is not carried out to ascertain the cause of the deaths.
As such, the diagnosis of sudden cardiac death in Nigeria is not commonly. Hence, data on the incidence of sudden cardiac death in Nigeria is sparse.
According to WHO data published in 2013, life expectancy in Nigeria is male 53.7, female 55.4.
Sudden death is said to occur when a blood clot suddenly cuts off the blood flow to the heart, preventing oxygen from getting to the heart. A lack of oxygen-containing blood flowing to the heart results in the loss of heart muscle.
According to a brain expert, Dr. Biodun Ogungbo, “People are dying from stroke and heart attack and the major causes of that in the country are hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Unfortunately, these are conditions that could be prevented”.
Reports show that 50 per cent of Nigerians are not aware that they have hypertension when they are actually coming to hospital with stroke or heart attack.
A renown cardiologist and Chief Medical Director, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Prof Adewale Oke, said there are rising cases of cholesterol, especially with the advent of eateries. His words: “It is on record that these eateries use salt massively in their cooking. They also use fat and oil. All these impede the heart. People are guilty of inactivity. They do not exercise as required. The type of work they engage in does not allow them time to do exercise or walk around. They sit in the office all day long. And the energy is stored up as excess calories that add up to overweight and then obesity.”
Worried about the rise in sudden deaths, Director – General, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, Innocent Ujah, said there is need to look into the deaths and conduct research with a view to finding the causes of this pattern of deaths and find solution.
Ujah, who identified cultural belief as one impediment to medical solution to some of the diseases, told Sunday Vanguard that NIMR had instituted a research group to investigate the trend.
Ujah posited that general cultural belief that many deaths in the country are not natural but linked to diabolical attacks, is not evidence-based, adding that, as scientists it could be easier to address some medical health conditions that could lead to sudden death when people adopt regular medical check-up.
While there is need for the people to watch their lifestyles with the advent of increasing NCDs, there is also the need to reawaken the consciousness of the health care workers and planners in Nigeria and other developing countries to rise up to the challenge and formulate plans to reduce the occurrence of sudden cardiac deaths.
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