BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Archive for July, 2019

Birth defects, also known as congenital anomalies, are growing public health problems which cause structural and functional disorders that result in malformations, malfunctions or syndromes that may present in-utero or after birth. Birth defects cause significant morbidity and mortality with increase in health care expenditure and psychosocial problems for the child and family throughout life. It is the leading cause of infant mortality and occurs worldwide with about 3% live births. In general, different birth defects are existent in different rates in different parts of the world probably due to differences in distribution of risk factors.

In the early 1940s, scientists thought that genetic factors, which are out of the control of health workers, were the only predisposing factors to birth defects. However, the discovery that German measles affecting pregnant mothers led to birth defect showed that relevant public health measures could be put in place to reduce these disorders and defects. Shortly afterwards, it was also observed that the use of the sedative drug- thalidomide, by pregnant women led to increase in Amelia in embryos while the anti-acne drug, isotretinoin commonly known by its trade name Accutane causes oro-facial clefts. These findings showed that drugs could also lead to birth defects. Subsequently, the number of agents that cause birth defects- known as teratogens, continued to increase due to widespread surveillance, monitoring and observation. Other infectious causes include protozoans e.g. toxoplasmosis; bacteria e.g. syphilis; and viruses e.g. HIV. Besides drugs and infectious agents, birth defects can also be caused by exposure to environmental teratogens such as radiation and heavy metals or issues with maternal health such as obesity, diabetes, pregnancy before 18 years or after 35 years, smoking and substance abuse especially alcohol which causes foetal alcohol syndrome.

Although many birth defects, especially those of genetic origin, are difficult to treat or prevent, public health has focussed more on educating the public through awareness programmes on those that can be prevented. Several research studies worldwide have unequivocally demonstrated that increased folic acid intake (above the given FDA range) reduces the risk of neural tube defects. Public health officers also partner and work with the FDA to ensure that there is a black box warning against use of potential teratogens. More so, awareness is continuously created for other causes of birth defects such as radiation and poor hygiene or sanitation practices. Most awareness campaigns are targeted towards the prevention of infection and have proven to be effective in addressing some causes of birth defects. Screening and advanced testing such as karyotyping or PCR are essential to the diagnosis of genetic defects like Down syndrome as well as to counsel parents on what to expect. Stem cell research and gene therapy, on the other hand, continues to give hope to families of children with genetic disorders.

Family planning is a significant part of healthcare, and is important to not just the family unit but also the community, state, and nation. Generally, it presents far reaching effects that cut across social, financial and political dimensions of the society. Family planning is particularly a problem in poorer families, low income groups and developing parts of the world. It is also an integral part of maternal health, basic human right to choose and women empowerment in general. According to WHO, family planning allows individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children as well as the spacing and timing of their births. This is achieved by the use of contraceptives, whether traditional ones like withdrawal and rhythm methods or modern contraceptive methods which may involve birth control pills, condoms, insertion of a diaphragm or an IUD and castration or vasectomy. Even though these methods are aimed at avoiding pregnancy, post conception ways and acts of terminating pregnancy such as abortion are not part of family planning. Despite being legal in many countries, including Canada, the 1994 United Nations summit in Cairo still rules out abortion as part of family planning.

As an important public health issue, it is pertinent that doctors, nurses, midwives and other health care workers educate the public and provide necessary expert advice on the contraceptive options available. The importance of family planning cannot be overemphasized because the right to choose birth times allows women to be free to pursue their career or academic goals which in turn improves their feeling of wellbeing, empowers them to make better choices about how to plan and live their lives as well as increases their economic significance to the society. Families may also choose to have a particular number of children or even temporarily delay childbirth if there are important financial stressors which would actually improve the quality of life. Also, contraceptives like condoms are an integral part of safe sex practices which have helped reduce the incidence of AIDS and STIs among sexually active people like teenagers or extramarital affairs that are not considered to be planning a family.

Evaluations have revealed a decline in infant mortality and adolescent pregnancies in areas with better family planning access, awareness and education. On a larger scale, some governments mandate family planning for national planning and population control like China’s One Child Rule policy. Family planning, despite all its merits has met some stubborn challenges. Several issues influenced by maternal age and health such as the risk of down syndrome and other chromosomal disorders, tumours, gestational diabetes and even emergency life threatening conditions like eclampsia have been identified. Additional issues reported include deficiencies with the method of contraception such as irregular periods and infections from implant. There are also cultural and religious hindrances to virtually all forms of modern contraceptive use especially in communities with more cultural and religious influence on individuals. Perhaps the most modifiable limitation of family planning is coverage and accessibility which healthcare providers and governments can tackle by creating more awareness through outreach and educational programmes to promote, emphasize and nail in its importance.

Children like every human have basic human rights and child maltreatment in all its forms violates this right. Child maltreatment involves child abuse, child neglect, manipulation or trafficking by the supposed care giver .Child abuse could be physical like inflicting wounds or sexual like oral sex, fondling of genitals, voyeurism and other sexual acts or emotional use words to hurt a child feeling. Child neglect is physical- when a caregiver fails take care of the child; medical- when medical needs are not taken care of; and emotional- when the emotional needs of the child are not met. Children who are particularly at increased risk of maltreatment include: children born into broken homes or those born to mentally ill parents. The fact remains, child maltreatment is a global and public health problem given that one in every four adults report experiencing some kind of abuse or maltreatment as a child.

The consequences of child maltreatment may be immediate death of the child during the process or injury.  Long term results such as psychological issues like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, suicide or emotional brokenness are equally devastating to both the child and the society. There could be physical deformations in cases of physical abuse or extreme sexual behaviors, abnormal sexual cravings and other psycho-sexual disorders in cases of sexual abuse. Medical neglect may lead to complication of an otherwise benign disease while physical and emotional neglect could result in poor emotional understanding and awkward responses even in adulthood. Abused children may grow up to become involved in crimes, substance abuse, violence to cope with their past, and may even abuse other children setting up a vicious cycle that worsens the problem in the society

The public health sector has perhaps the most important role in tackling this problem. There are already education and awareness programs where children are taught, for example, to understand sexual cues like good touch and bad touch, rights as individuals over their bodies. Awareness programs also help train health workers and the general public on ways to recognize physically abused children like children with multiple bruises, especially bruises in unusual areas of the body like the cheeks, ears and back. Physically neglected children may be generally untidy and wear dirty clothes to school while medically neglected ones have an obvious medical condition that’s not attended to. Victimized children tend to be distrustful and withdrawn so it is especially challenging to reach out to them however, their fears should be addressed and they should be assured that they would be properly taken care of. Public officers should be sent more to areas with higher reports of abuse and there should be reliable access to public health services through a phone. They should work with the judiciary to take control of the child as quickly as possible as the child runs the risk of further abuse or even death. Children with psychological problems from abuse should be referred to psychiatrists to assess and help them to find coping mechanisms. Government also has important roles like instituting laws such as serious jail terms for children abusers and proper funding of social and health care services that help fight child maltreatment.

Child maltreatment is not just a problem for public health and the government, it is every ones problem and we must do what we can to protect, guide and save these innocent creatures for posterity sake.

Air quality can be defined as the state of the air within our surrounding environment in relation to its appearance and composition. Air quality is measured by the extent to which air is clean, clear and free from impurities such as smoke, chemicals, particles, mists, dust and smog. The quality of air can be determined by measuring and assessing a series of quality indicators such as amount of impurities, rate at which these impurities are released into the atmosphere and how long they are trapped in air. The WHO Air Quality Global Guidelines, which was published in 2005, provides an assessment of the health effects of poor air quality as well as thresholds values for harmful impurities.

Good air quality is important to balance and sustain the existence of human, plant and animal life, and to preserve natural resources and the environment at large. Consequently, all life and resources are threatened when impurities and chemicals exceed threshold concentrations in the atmosphere. Air quality can be depraved through either natural or man-made means- natural processes that depreciate air quality are volcanic eruption and windstorm dust while man-made processes include contamination by vehicles exhausts, toxic gases from industries, coal powered plants, landfills and burning wood or other material in open air. Both natural and manmade causes of poor air quality can significantly affect overall air quality resulting in severely negative health problems for humans, animals, plants and the environment as a whole.

Human activities emit a wide range of contaminants which depreciate air quality on a daily basis. These contaminants are classified into different categories that include Sulfur Dioxide, particulate matter, Hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, Lead, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Oxides and Smog. In most parts of the globe, substances that visible reduce air quality include smoke, dust, particles, some gases, soot and smog from factories, power plants, automobiles, and smelters particularly in urban and industrial areas. In general poor environmental air quality also affects indoor air quality. Specific indoor air contaminants include cigarette smoke, mould, dust mites, pet dander, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds and radon gas. Certain conditions like light winds and high mountains that tend to constrain air movement may preserve and increase contaminants and perpetuate poor air quality in an area.

Despite many efforts by various organizations, including WHO, to improve air quality, the situation has worsened. Many people across the world die annually due to the damage done to their bodies by the gradual, yet daily and consistent inhalation of toxic gases present in the atmosphere. Health consequences of poor air quality are difficulty breathing, irritation of lungs and airways and aggravation of already existing chronic diseases such as heart disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.

Certain ways to promote and improve air quality for this, and the coming generations include: reducing traffic and vehicle emissions by encouraging public transports; managing industrial waste and emissions; and establishing effective policies that embrace clean air action plans. However, these require collaborative effort and long-term team work, partnerships and commitment from individuals, businesses, companies, facilities, national governments and international organizations.