Monday, 13 January 2014

We Continue to Die Young

Happy New Year! Now that the fireworks and hullabaloo of the festivities are over, it’s time to get back to the reality of a frustrating world. This last week I read an article that listed the 10 countries with the least life expectancy that a friend had posted on Facebook. Amazingly I was not really surprised to find Zambia among the candidates. Often I am skeptical about statistics that place Zambia among the worst of anything. I definitely do not believe that Zambia is the worst country in anything; however, it keeps popping up on such lists. It is either the researchers see something that I don’t or I am disillusioned by this city life.


According to the article, I am expected to die before I am 51 years old, guess I better rush completing my bucket list. Frankly, I thought this article was pretty generous of their life expectancy of Zambian’s because the last time I checked such a statistic, I should not be expected to live past 39 years. The authors of the article attribute this to poverty, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases. In the past, I would have disputed this statistic adamantly and rubbished whatever research would have been brought my way. Sadly in 2013, I lost some of my friends and my very own brother. They did not get past the age of 30 years old. The circumstances of their deaths may be different but it still does under pins one thing, they died young.


Zambia has never experienced a civil war neither have we had any major natural disasters that would set us back decades. We had an economic crisis but which country didn’t, so where are we getting it wrong? People in Monaco are expected to live nearly twice as long as us at 89 years. I know that there are many places we can look at for an explanation, and to some extent they may give us the answers. My friend on his Facebook post raised some very valid points regarding our lifestyles and the health care system. I would not agree more.


When was the last time you went to the clinic for a routine medical checkup? No I don’t mean when you felt you had malaria or you had to go because you were applying for a scholarship. I will be honest and say the closest I get to a medical check-up is to check my sugar level when student doctors pitch up by Arcades.  I only visit the dentist when I need a tooth removed or filled. When I have a head ache I often self-prescribe sleep or Panado, and I am not the only one who does this. I am subscribed to a gym but I hardly go. Yes, I am guilty as charged; I may be contributing to this terrible statistic. An initiative by government regarding our own health is treated with apathy. I remember the time when the circumcision campaigns started people were skeptical saying, “What are the Americans up to now.” Free screening for cervical cancer for the female folk the first lady has to constantly beg women to go and yet it is for their own good. In short we just don’t care. Then we have the obvious, HIV/AIDS. It is almost a crime to talk of health without mentioning the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We still have some reckless individuals who still believe that they are immune from contracting the virus. There have been campaigns, posters, peer education, even Love Games, but still we pretend like we cannot contract it. It calls for an urgent attitude change.


I spent my new year’s celebration counting down with ZNBC on the tele somewhere in Mumbwa. It was a farm some 30km away from any civilization, you cannot imagine the things we take for granted like cellphone signal. This place was about 30km away and so was the nearest health centre. I prayed that during my short stay there I should not suddenly fall sick because I wonder what would have become of me. When I asked the people there what they did if someone fell sick they told me they would have to travel all the way to the health centre on the gravel road. This is just one scenario of many across this country. If you never go outside Lusaka where you have the luxury of both public and private clinics in near proximity, you may never know the struggle others go to just to get to a health facility. Spare a moment for a person sick in the rural areas who has to think of going 30km to the health centre either on foot or by bicycle. Of course, most would opt to use the traditional healers who are close by or hope that the illness will just go away. The end result is that illnesses are not properly treated or not treated at all. Forget about such people going for a routine medical checkup. Health centres having adequate medicate, facilities and equipment is another issue altogether.


The life expectancy statistic also means that children may consider themselves luck if they have their grandparents around. Articles such as this one have been written before and it definitely won’t be the last. If in its own small way it can make remind you to be more conscious about your health or it may make you consider helping those individuals who do not have access to health facilities, then the reminder is worth it. Now time to get back to find a way to squeeze my bucket list in the 20 or so years that I have left.

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