Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chemicals in the home...

*I wrote this for Artisan's Monthly, a new magazine in Lagos, but it was rejected by the editor, a rather hard, but very pretty young lady, on the grounds that it was too health oriented.

Cancer is a class of diseases in which a group of cells display uncontrolled growth, invasion that intrudes upon and destroys adjacent tissues, and sometimes metastasis, or spreading to other locations in the body via lymph or blood. These three malignant properties of cancers differentiate them from benign tumours, which do not invade or metastasise.

Researchers divide the causes of cancer into two groups: those with an environmental cause and those with a hereditary genetic cause.

It must be noted though, that cancer is primarily an environmental disease, though genetics influence the risk of some cancers. Common environmental factors leading to cancer include: tobacco, diet and obesity, infections, radiation, lack of physical activity, and environmental pollutants.

Incidents of cancer are on the rise in Nigeria, some studies estimating that one in two Nigerian males will be at risk of contracting cancer at some point in his life, and this tells us just how careful we have to be. You see, as we pointed out earlier, cancer is primarily an environmental disease with 90-95% of cases attributed to environmental factors. The common environmental factors that contribute to cancer death include: tobacco (25-30%), diet and obesity (30-35%), infections (15-20%), radiation (both ionizing and non ionizing, up to 10%), stress, lack of physical activity, and environmental pollutants.

Nigeria, despite repeated warnings from the Federal Ministry of Health, companies that produce cigarettes are increasing production in the country, and as a result, more Nigerians are taking up smoking. The problem here is a lack of the necessary political will to make life a bit more uncomfortable for such companies as has been done in Europe and the United States.

Again, the average Nigerian leads a sedentary lifestyle. Take the Lagosian as an example, most of us wake up at unholy hours of the morning in order to sit in traffic for countless hours per day, get to the office, do more sitting, then again sit in countless hours of traffic on our return journey home. In between the physical exertions, we do not even think of exercise.

Then there is environmental pollution, which dovetails nicely into another scourge that we have in this part of the world, malaria.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans caused by Plasmodium. It is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions. The disease results from the multiplication of the malaria parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases progressing to coma, and death. Malaria is commonly associated with poverty, and can indeed be a cause of poverty and a major hindrance to economic development.

What would be a shock however is that incidents of malaria are also on the rise, especially in our urban areas. Also shocking is that deaths from malaria are also quite high compared to the population.

But is it something to be shocked about? Or better still, is it something to be surprised at?

We all know the drill, malaria is caused by a tiny insect called the mosquito which feeds on human blood and in the process transmits the malaria parasite to the unfortunate victim. We all know that mosquitoes are endemic in tropical regions, and Nigeria, especially the coastal regions of the country, are wham bam slam in such regions. However, what many of us do not seem to understand is that we breed them.

A drive through Lagos is an eye opener to the fact that despite the efforts of the Lagos State Waste Management Authority, the environment here is frankly quite unhealthy. Our environment is not cleaned properly, and we have all sorts of pollutants given free rein, a very good example would be the jalopies that belch exhaust fumes along our roads.

Nigeria has on paper at least, an excellent health code. But as is the case with the cigarette companies, our health code is not enforced. In September of last year, the National Agency for Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had to go on record in warning cocoa farmers against the use of banned pesticides on their crops. This followed a study by the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) had listed 24 banned agrochemicals that were still being used in cocoa farms in Nigeria. According to a recent publication by CRIN, all chemicals with endosulfan as their active ingredient are banned for use on all agriculture undertakings. Up until today, there has been no follow up to that warning, and no farmer has been charged or fined.

Two thousand years ago, the Romans realised that there was a correlation between the number of mosquitoes that they had in their region, and the marshy areas, or areas that had a lot of still waters. So accordingly, they tried as much as they could to drain such places, and generally keep their environment healthy. Why can we not, in the 21st century, do the same?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Critical mass

Now that the Mubarak regime has wound down, the question on a lot of lips is about the role of the Egyptian Army in the crisis, and how their action (or inaction) helped in toppling Uncle Hosni. People have asked what the Nigerian Army would do given the same situation.

There are many people who swear that the Nigerian Army would have no problems in shooting the protesters. I beg to differ, and my confidence is borne out of what I saw in the eyes of the armed men who stood in the way of the Enough is Enough protest of March 16, 2010. These people hesitated. I can guarantee that if Nigerian officers were as bloodthirsty as people try to make out on a lot of occasions, Audu Maikori would definitely be pushing up daisies by now.

Then there is the scenario that is playing out in Algeria as I type. The government has already ordered a heavy-handed crackdown on the protests that are beginning to play out, and the police are doing their bidding.

The question then becomes, "what is the difference between Egypt and Tunisia on the one hand", and Algeria, then possibly Nigeria on the other?

The difference is timing, and eventually, critical mass. It took the government of Ben Ali seven days, from December 17 when Mohammed Bouazizi immolated himself to begin a crackdown. By that time, the protests had attained critical mass. In Egypt, it took Mubarak's government six days from January 25 before the military was mobilized. Again, as in Tunisia, the protests had attained critical mass.

By critical mass, we are talking of the number of people who had gotten involved so as to make military intervention meaningless. You see, what we have to realise is that the soldiers come from amongst us. When there are a few protesters, the possibility that the soldiers would hurt their own people is limited. When the number of protesters has reached a certain mass (half a million and above), the possibility goes up exponentially that if soldiers are deployed to quell such a protest, they will end up hurting their mothers, their fathers, their sisters or their brothers. Faced with such a scenario, the average soldier will not shoot.

The challenge for Nigeria now is how to attain that critical mass that would render our own revolution, when it happens, effective. Let us make no mistakes, the Nigerian revolution has to happen. It has to happen soon. However, it is not about crying for democracy, we already have that no matter how flawed. It should be about putting our differences which our political elite have played on for so long behind us and forging a genuinely Nigerian identity.

There is one more challenge. How do we attain critical mass in 48 hours or less. Make no mistakes about this, as the government of Algeria is showing, no other government is going to allow a popular revolt attain critical mass before deploying its armed forces to quell it. That for us, is the biggest lesson from Egypt.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

We are in trouble!

What colour is this? I can swear that it's black.

So this morning I had a visitor. He was meant to collect a computer from me, and having never been to my place, I sent him a text with my address. For some reason he totally missed my description. I described it to him on phone, sent him a text with the description. Somehow, I still had to go and meet him on foot in front of the nearest Redeemed Church.

To make my job of meeting him easier, I asked for a description of his car, and he told me a blue Honda Accord. On getting there, I saw this...

What is scary about this?

The fellow in question is meant to be one of the bright sparks in the Nigerian police force, just freshly returned from a training programme in the United States. Yet he could not understand the following description: "from the Estate gate, take the first turn to your right, drive until you get to another right turn, that is x Street, do not enter that, but take the next right turn, which is y Street. Upon entering y Street, the first left turn is z Street. My close, a Close is just when you enter y Street. My house is number b."

To make matters worse, all of these streets, and the close are clearly signposted!

If a policeman cannot get this description, and then cannot tell me the proper colour of his car, then what hope do we have of being adequately protected?