By Ellen G. Cooper
Ellen G. Cooper
While busying ourselves to celebrate Liberia’s independence this year on July 26 at home and abroad, I thought that a good way to truly celebrate another milestone would be to take charge of our health by taking advantage of preventive health care services. Too often, many of us who are privileged to live in societies that afford us health benefits neglect to take advantage of preventive health and seek health care only when we have symptoms that are unbearable or a condition that worsens with time. At that point, treatment is usually extensive and costly or sadly, the condition becomes chronic, and altering our quality of life if by chance we survive. For those living in Liberia whose main issue is not neglect but compounded by limited health services and poor health education, poverty, scarcity of medicine, medical supplies, health care personnel, as well as facilities, there is still much more we can do in terms of basic preventive healthcare to save lives.
What is preventive health?
Preventive health is proactive measures that are focused on averting illness or disease progression as opposed to those focused on curative only. Its purpose is to keep us healthy, prevent the burden of chronic disease and premature death. Preventive health operates on three levels which are primary, secondary, and tertiary.
On the primary level, preventive health consists of general measures that prevent illness from occurring in the first place. This is achieved by means of good nutrition-balanced diet, good hygiene, and infectious disease precautions. For example, drinking clean water, hand washing, and keeping your environment free from standing water reduces the risk of common diarrhea causing illness and malaria. A well-balanced and adequate diet decreases the risk of obesity and malnutrition. In addition, vaccination decreases the risk of diseases such as measles, hepatitis, tetanus, chicken pox, pneumonia, and others.
Secondary prevention on the other hand, comprises of measures that intercept the potential for disease to become active or symptomatic through screening and management. Its aim is to detect disease early on and provide treatment or intervention to halt disease such as hypertension, diabetes, and cancer progression. Secondary prevention also includes those strategies that contain, prevent, or limit the spread of infectious disease among at risk population or those with infectious diseases such as HIV, syphilis, tuberculosis, and most recently, the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia.
Tertiary prevention focuses on rehabilitation to minimize the disability resulting from a disease or condition. Its aim is to implement measures that help individuals return to functional capacity as best as possible. Such measures are usually employed in cases of stroke, amputation, blindness, pain, mental health conditions, and many others that limit one’s functional ability.
Benefits of Preventive Health
The benefits of preventive health are numerous; (1) in terms of personal wellbeing, it keeps us healthy, improves our quality of life, and prevents us from dying prematurely from preventable diseases or chronic illnesses; (2) economically, preventive health makes sense because it is less costly to prevent than to cure; (3) preventive health prevents the incidence of wide spread of diseases; (4) preventive health prolongs life.
Thankfully, according to the World Health Organization 2013 report, life expectancy in Liberia is 60years, up from 45 years over the past ten years. An encouraging improvement since the war, much credit due to primary preventive health services provided by foreign NGOs in collaboration with local NGOs and the government of Liberia. For example, since 2003, Médecins du Monde has been providing maternal and newborn preventive health services in Bong county with astonishing success. The project goal is to reduce childhood diseases and maternal mortality. Additionally, the project aims to prevent the transmission of HIV from Mother to Child, Malaria, the effects of malnutrition, improve midwifery training and provide services to manage complications during labor. As recent as 2013, the Safe Motherhood Project operated by Medical Team International has also been providing similar preventive health services in Sinoe county, Liberia.
Despite the gain, Liberian life expectancy is fragile and at risk of decline. This is because according to NGOs statistics, government health institutions, which many Liberians rely on continue to operate below the pre-war capacity or in poor working order; subsequently unable to manage medical emergencies, chronic illnesses, or epidemic such as the Ebola crisis, once the foreign NGOs funding dries out.
For example, on July 27, 1971, John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital one of the finest in West Africa supported with a mixed funding of $6.8 million loan and $9.2 million in grants from USAID, and an additional $1 million contribution from the Liberian Government opens its doors. The pre-war capacity was composed of 600 beds and four well-functioning subdivisions:
Unfortunately, according to WHO 2013 report on Liberia health recovery, JFK has not been restore to its pre-war capacity, as is the case with many other major pre-war health facilities in Liberia such as Martha Tubman Memorial Hospital in Zwedru, J.J Dossen in Harper Maryland, Phebe Hospital in Bong County, and others. Although, some new medical facilities have been added to the Liberian health care delivery system, such as the Jackson F. Doe Medical Center in Nimba county however, much needs to be done in order to cope with the growing population health needs otherwise, the gradual gain in the population life expectancy might be reversed.
Some Preventive Health Strategies
Preventive health is a holistic and collaborative process involving several strategies, but not limited to the following:
For a county such as Liberia where services are rarely available to manage health complications such as kidney failure requiring dialysis, liver failure requiring transplant, and various types of cancer requiring chemo therapy, focusing on primary preventive health to stop diseases in the first place is vital.
If we do these things, we are bound to live healthier; prevention is less costly than cure. Preventions saves lives, so taking control of your health this Independence Celebration where ever you are, may help you live to see many more.
About the Author: Ms. Ellen G. Cooper, RN, is a New York State licensed Registered Nurse with over 16 years’ experience. Ms. Cooper holds a Bachelor degree in nursing and is currently pursuing a dual graduate degree as Clinical Nurse Specialist and Adult Nurse Practitioner at the college of Staten Island, New York. She is an active member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.