152nd Inaugural: Proper Health Literacy Critical To Preventing Untimely Deaths, Says Ordinioha By Otikor Samuel


Until faith-based healers in Nigeria are restrained from offering essential healthcare services and allow health professionals to do their job of preventing and treating diseases, it would be difficult to effectively promote proper health literacy and change the health-seeking behaviour of patients.

This was the observation made by Professor Best Ordinioha of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine in the Faculty of Clinical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, while delivering the 152nd Inaugural Lecture entitled, Preventive and Social Medicine: The Science and the Art of Preventing Untimely Death at the Ebitimi Banigo Auditorium on Thursday, August 30, 2018.

Professor Ordinioha regretted that most Nigerians, including highly-educated persons choose to cut corners in their health-seeking behaviour with disastrous consequences, averring that some patients habitually rejected diagnosis from medical experts while preferring to patronise charlatans.

“Faith-based health providers know the art of healing, but know nothing about the science of healing, while orthodox practitioners know so much about the science of healing without knowing much about the art of healing. Health education, is however, currently an all-comers affair in Nigeria, carried out by nearly everybody with the least knowledge of health sciences. This is even as health education needs to be delivered with the skilful application of communication and behavioural change theories to be truly effective. This sad scenario was displayed during the 2014 Ebola epidemic that saw the invasion of the mass media by 'health educators' chorusing the fact that the disease is incurable,” he bemoaned.

To increase health literacy, the Inaugural Lecturer tasked public health physicians to engage in aggressive sensitisation to inculcate behavioural change among patients and faith healers. “As health providers, contemporary faith healers should follow the path once trod by the missionaries that brought Christianity into Nigeria, who used medical care as a powerful tool of evangelism and built churches around dispensaries they established to provide western-style medical care to the people,” he advocated.

The 152nd Inaugural Lecturer defined health literacy as the ability to obtain, read, understand and use healthcare information to make appropriate health decisions and follow instructions for effective treatment, adding that informed persons adopted proper health-seeking behaviour to treat illnesses. He defined health-seeking behaviour as a sequence of remedial actions that individuals can undertake to address cases of ill-health.

Professor Ordinioha pointed out that “disease results when the homeostatic mechanisms of the body fail to the extent that the body is unable to maintain the milieu interior. This usually results from toxic exchanges with the external environment, failure of the internal regulatory mechanisms, or a combination of the two.”

The Professor of Community Medicine and Public Health disclosed that diseases that result from toxic exchanges with the external environment are said to be due to nurture and largely attributed to the environment, while those caused by internal mechanisms are referred to as genetic diseases and attributed to serious faults in the DNA blueprints of the victim, a situation which makes it difficult for the cells of the body to maintain their milieu interior.

Diseases that result from a combination of external and internal mechanisms, he further disclosed are known as familial diseases which arise from slightly defective DNA blueprints that are unable to cope with the toxic exchanges with the external environment.

“The art of preventing untimely death is oftentimes as important as its science, but there is however a tendency for those that know the science to abandon the art, and for those with little knowledge of the science to elaborate the art, knowing that they are ordinary without the art,” Ordinioha stated. He pointed out that modern medicine has since abandoned the art of and adopted the science of healing that distinguished the methods adopted by faith healers and health practitioners in tackling emergent diseases.

He said that the art of preventing untimely death has to do with the application of science to get the desired objective of promoting health, preventing and treating diseases and preventing the transmission of faulty genes from parents to children since inherited diseases are difficult to treat.

On his contribution to knowledge, Professor Ordinioha stated that a study he and others carried out on premarital screening for sickle cell trait amongst Christian couples in Choba community, revealed that more than 70 per cent of them only submitted to the test mainly because it was one of the conditions specified by the Church. He frowned at a situation in which people got to know about their genotype only when it came as a directive to fulfil a purpose.

The Inaugural Lecturer disclosed that he and his colleagues had initiated a Methuselah Project to assist in the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases, while efforts were ongoing to commence a Preventive Medicine Clinic at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital to curb the spread of preventable diseases.

Professor Ordinioha said the conviction to convert his research findings into innovative health services was to enable him address the changing disease pattern aimed at establishing the link between health and the environment.

Commenting on the lecture, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration), Professor Regina Ogali, who stood in for the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ndowa Lale, commended Professor Ordinioha for focusing attention on preventive measures that can prolong life through his research work.

“We are pleased that you have also told us about your future research plan in the critical field of Community Medicine and Public Health. This lecture has exposed us to the need to seek proper ways of treating ourselves and those little things we can do to preserve our health status. Prevention will always be cheaper than seeking clinical remedies when we are already down with a disease,” Professor Ogali said.

She announced that Professor Prince Mmom of the Department of Geography and Environmental Management will deliver the 153rd Inaugural Lecture entitled, Order in Disorder: Rethinking Inside the Box on Thursday, September 27, 2018.

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