By Laz Ude Eze
About one month is gone and the government of Nigeria and her international allies have been unable to #BringBackOurGirls abducted by callous insurgents in #Chibok, Borno State.
It is no longer news that this singular incident, more than any other, has sparked global outrage and strengthened the determination to stamp out terrorism. So many things have been said or written, and expected to continue even after the girls may have been brought back to their families. An area that is not being given the attention it deserves is the health of the abducted girls.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Can we say that our missing sisters and daughters are in a state of COMPLETE physical, mental and social wellbeing? My answer is NO! If yours is same, then you would agree with me that we need to plan their rehabilitation. It is necessary because I write with strong optimism that the Nigerian security agents with the support of our foreign partners shall #BringbackOurGirls ALIVE.
Let me shed some light on the possible health challenges that #ChibokGirls may face. Their abduction has subjected them to an unimaginable physiological trauma and emotional instability. When released, they will most-likely suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Their immediate families, schoolmates, members of their community and many concerned are also undergoing terrible mental stress and also at risk of developing PTSD and other associated adverse mental health issues.
As already reported in the media, they may have been raped multiple times by their abductors. The outcome of such sexual violence could be contraction of sexually transmitted infections (STI) including HIV/AIDS or unwanted pregnancy.
In the case of unwanted pregnancy, the only option available, by our current laws, is for the girl to carry the baby till term and deliver. It’s traumatic to imagine that any of these girls will give birth to a child fathered by their abductors, but is a possibility, except abortion laws are made less restrictive.
Furthermore, the girls may be malnourished; malnutrition weakens the immune system and would make them vulnerable to various forms of ill-health. The place they may currently be kept is not likely to be of good hygienic condition and their access to water may be limited. They are therefore prone to having skin infections, dehydration and at risk of developing kidney stones. The water available to them may be of poor quality, thereby making them vulnerable to water-borne diseases.
They may be exposed to harsh weather conditions, exposed to mosquito bites and at risk of having malaria. If any of them sustains skin injury, it is at risk of being infected by tetanus. Untreated tetanus usually leads to death. The more our abducted sisters stay in captivity, the more health risks they’re exposed to.
Someone was telling me that it is inchoate to be discussing these possible health challenges when the girls are yet to be found. I argue that it is not. As a public health physician, I focus more on prevention. Our system failed to prevent the abduction of these girls; failure to make concrete plans to address possible health challenges they may encounter would stop us from preventing possible health consequences including death. It may be disastrous if we fail to put structures in place to address the health challenges of these girls, their friends, schoolmates and their communities. It is the responsibility of Government of Borno State with necessary support from the Federal Government to ensure that this happens.
In same vein, it is noteworthy that a statement issued recently by #Choice4Life Advocates (a group of young Nigerians that promotes Women Reproductive Health and Rights) expressed concerns about the health of the girls. The group which I also belong to made a 5-point demand including the urgent passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill (#VAPPbill). Passage of #VAPPbill is also a key demand of the #BringBackOurGirls Campaign. It has been passed by the House of Reps and passed First Reading at the Senate. I join the call for the Senate to expedite action and #PassVAPPbill. The bill when it becomes law will provide protection for vulnerable people like children, physically challenges, women and poor people who are usually victims of violence.
As we continue to support our military with prayers to #BringBackOurGirls, I humbly request that government at all levels provide leadership and put plans in place to Restore their Health and support each of them to make #Choice4Life. God bless Nigeria.
Dr Laz Ude Eze is a public health expert, global health ambassador and youth development consultant. He tweets @donlaz4u.