By Caroline Chiimba | Nust-ZW

THEY say ‘ignorance is bliss’, but perhaps not when it comes to matters of health.     A woman who once weighed 98kg and noticeable from afar in her snow white Johanne Masowe church garment, now looks tiny and unrecognisable.

Siphakeme Maphosa (34) never considered going for regular health check-ups. She always felt that she was very healthy since she was constantly gaining a lot of weight. But little did she know that her days as a voluptuous woman were coming to an end.

Maphosa recalls that fateful day, two years ago, when she almost lost her life due to a sudden diabetic attack which she was unaware of.

“I started feeling very weak and short of breath on a Tuesday evening when my husband was away in Harare. I never took it seriously, as I thought it would go away in a few days,” said Maphosa, with a slight frown on her face.

“But, after two days I realised that my clothes were becoming too big for my body size and this is when I realised that my health was getting worse.

“The night my husband returned, on Friday the same week, I even got worse to the extent that I was grasping for air,” said Maphosa, with her eyes wide open and moving her hands with great force.

“I remember my sister helping me to get into the car, while my husband opened the gate, and then everything went blank!”

Maphosa was rushed to the Marondera Polyclinic, a private surgery in Bulawayo, before being transferred to Mpilo Hospital after losing consciousness.

“She was resuscitated with a lot of difficulty as the doctors almost gave up on her, and I was shocked to find out that her sugar levels were as high as 17 instead of the normal five,” said Cosmas Mhandu, Maphosa’s husband, with his eyes wide open.

However, not everyone is as lucky as Maphosa.

Many people have lost their lives to non communicable diseases (NCD).Most of the diseases are diagnosed too late when death is knocking on the door.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), NCD which are popularly known as silent killer diseases, because of their nature of killing people claim almost two-thirds of all deaths in the developing world. In Zimbabwe alone, 30 percent of all deaths are caused by silent killer diseases.

However in African countries, there are several mysteries including witchcraft which are associated with sudden illness or death that result from silent killer diseases.

Some of the silent killer diseases are diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, ovarian and liver cancers. These diseases are characterised by hideous symptoms and signs which usually start to show at a later stage.

The Zimbabwe Diabetic Association estimates that close to 7 000 lives are lost per year, while close to 1,5 million people are living with diabetes.

“Our society is still overwhelmed with this belief that regular health check-ups are Eurocentric, thus ignoring the slightest health problems they encounter on a daily basis,” said Dr Timothy Mumbengegwi, a health practitioner who runs his own surgery in Bulawayo.

“Only a few in Zimbabwe go for health check-ups when they feel something is not right. The majority delay until they are critically ill, which sometimes result in tragedy befalling them.”

According to WHO, 82 percent of people who die from heart attacks and strokes due to undiagnosed and uncontrolled hypertension are mainly from the developing countries.

“Diabetes seem to be opening doors for other silent killer diseases like hypertension and heart attack, so it is important for people to do regular health check-ups if one is living with diabetes so as to prevent other diseases,” explained Dr Mumbengegwi.

Further studies by WHO have found that the rapidly changing lifestyle of people and their food habits also increases health risks. These include taking in unhealthy sprinkled salt during braais as it is advised that salt should be added during cooking, not upon eating.

meat on a braai stand showing rapidly changing lifestyles of people: photo

Along with consuming a lot of alcohol in a bid to reduce stress, and abuse of tobacco which results in hypertension and heart diseases, people are risking their lives.

A lot of people are familiar with, and some have knowledge about breast and cervical cancer, but little do they know about liver and ovarian cancer since it is less common in Zimbabwe.

Liver cancer originates from the liver or in other parts of the body and then spreads to the liver. Liver tumours are discovered on medical imaging equipment (often by accident) or present themselves symptomatically as an abdominal mass, pain, yellow skin, nausea or liver dysfunction.

The leading cause of liver cancer is excessive intake of alcohol. The majority of people who get liver cancer look healthy from the outside and show no early signs or symptoms, and for this reason liver cancer is called ‘the silent killer’.

Due to the difficulty in diagnosing liver cancer at an early stage, the survival rate is estimated at 3 to 6 months.

Ovarian cancer is more deadly than cervical cancer and other gynaecologic cancers.

It is not easy to detect because ovaries are situated deep within the abdominal cavity.

Symptoms are often misdiagnosed as they can be confused with symptoms of other less severe illnesses like gastrointestinal complaints.

Earliest warning signs of ovarian cancer include abdominal bloating, pressure, and pain, feeling abnormally full after eating, increased urination and an urge to urinate.

Other general symptoms are fatigue, constipation, menstrual irregularities, painful intercourse, back pain, indigestion and heartburn.

True to the adage, prevention is better than cure, Maphosa says this message should be people’s daily prayer.

“Since the day I was diagnosed with diabetes, I always encourage my family members to do regular health check-ups because I don’t want them to experience the same fate as mine,” said Maphosa, gazing down and looking defeated.

“Currently, I have been struggling with kidney failure and high blood pressure which came as a result of uncontrolled diabetes.”

Despite being a wife to a prophet, diabetes caught Maphosa by surprise, proving that these silent killer diseases know no creed, age, race, status or religion. Anyone can succumb to them at any given time.

Silent killer diseases are a war against mankind.

CAROLINE CHIIMBA is a second year student in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the National University of Science and Technology. | cover image:


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