Stroke on the Rampage in Nigeria

Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health


Statistics collated from various hospitals across the nation reveals that more than 160,000 Nigerians suffer from stroke every year. This number does not include the cases handled by traditional healers, pastors. Imams and herbalists

By Chinwe Okafor  | Oct. 6, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT  |

SOMETIME this year, Chinedu Okoye, a father of five in his late forties, experienced some abnormalities in his body. He was unable to use his left hand and leg properly and couldn’t utter any word fluently. He was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed as having the signs of a stroke. Okoye said, “I have always been healthy all my life; the last time I had  fever was long ago and I have never been admitted in the hospital or experienced anything much more than tiredness or headache.

“I was trying to do my early morning exercise when I noticed I could not move my fingers, my hands went numb. I felt some pains through my chest and that was it. Luckily for me, my eldest son rushed me to the nearest hospital in town, where the doctor confirmed that I had just had my first episode of stroke.” Okoye said he had been warned a few months earlier, when he went to the hospital for a checkup but he didn’t heed the doctor’s advice. He said that the doctor told him to start taking some anti-hypertensive drugs immediately to reduce my blood pressure.

He said that he took the drugs for only two months because he was convinced, after speaking with his pastor, that it was a spiritual attack on him by some evil forces. But three months after, he suffered a stroke. “The doctor, however, told me that if not for the drugs I had taken earlier, I would have been totally paralysed from the stroke,” he said. Okoye is one of the several thousands of Nigerians who have passed through such sad experience. Besides, stroke is not an ailment for only the aged, the youths are also liable to it.

Stroke is widely recognized as a condition popular in older people but experts claim undetected and poorly managed hypertension, diabetes and obesity have increased the population of Nigerians dying from stroke. Caleb Gbiri, a neuro-physiotherapist and lecturer at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Akoka, says the population of Nigerians suffering from stroke is on the increase. He said unlike before, when he handled a few patients, these days, he attends to at least five to six new cases of stroke every month. “Recent statistics collated from hospitals suggest that more than 0.001 percent of the Nigerian population suffer stroke yearly.


“This means that more than 160,000 Nigerians develop stroke yearly, though we have not added the statistics of those that herbalists, pastors; Imams and the so-called traditional healers manage. The figure is just too high for only one disease.” According to him, majority of Nigerians who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol content in their system and end-stage diabetes and diseases that predispose to stroke, do not even know that they have it. Gbiri said it is disheartening to know that 80 percent out of the 160,000 cases of stroke can be prevented if only people who have hypertension, diabetes or heart diseases can manage their health.

He added that a prevailing factor why stroke patients do not survive is the myth associated with the disease in the country because investigations conducted by experts have revealed that more than 50 percent of those who suffer stroke seek medical care from quacks and unqualified persons in Nigeria. Biodun Ogungbo, a consultant neurosurgeon and stroke specialist in Abuja, said that about 40 percent of Nigerians are living with factors that could predispose them to developing stroke. These factors include obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet rich in salt and fat, high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels.

According to him, Nigerians in their 30s, 40s and 50s are developing and dying of stroke due to the increasing population of hypertensive and diabetic patients in the country. Ogungbo, said that though there were no quality statistics of stroke patients in Nigeria, but there are more patients in their productive years developing and dying of stroke in Nigeria as against the elderly in foreign countries. He stated that stroke, a preventable disease, occurs when there is either too much blood in the brain which is known as wet stroke or when no blood is going into the brain also known as dry stroke and it is usually due to unmanaged and undetected hypertension.

He said, “The incidence of hypertension is high in Nigeria. Almost half of the patients I see for the first time in clinic for other problems such as back pain, have high blood pressure. Hypertension is common in black people. We do not know why. It is therefore common in Nigerian and some statistics say over 40 percent of adults in Nigeria have hypertension. Unfortunately, for some reasons, younger people in Nigeria are becoming hypertensive and suffering the consequences and also increasing the incidence of stroke and heart failure in people in their productive years.”

He, however, maintained that people should avoid excessive fats storage in the body, do regular exercises so as to put a stop to high blood pressure because there are not enough trained medical and nursing experts to manage hypertension and its consequences such as stroke. Rita Melifonwu, executive director, Stroke Action, United Kingdom, said the challenge facing early detection was that stroke was still being regarded as traditional or spiritual attack. She said that a lot of patients diagnosed with high blood pressure, high glucose level or high cholesterol levels often refuse to comply with their medications adding that some others do not know they are at risk until they have an episode of stroke because they have never been diagnosed.

“When a Nigerian experiences his/her first stroke, the family members would say an arrow was fired at the leg or spine. They are rushed to a native doctor or herbalist to remove the arrow or stone. Then, they suffer more strokes instead of recovering from it. Also, when patients are diagnosed and given hypertensive drugs, they refuse to take them, they say God has removed it and stop taking their medication, and then they suffer a stroke. Stroke does not occur due to wickedness,” she said.

Melifonwu maintained that Nigerians should reduce their chances of developing stroke because the country lacks physical structures and a social system that could help stroke patients to pick up their lives again. “Who cares for you when you have stroke in Nigeria? It is the wife, husband or the children that has to drop out of work or school to take care of that person and definitely not government or the society. She also charged the Federal Government to implement disability access laws in all sectors, to ensure that Nigerians who had suffered stroke and other disabilities are not ostracised from the society.


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