USAfrica: Better health comes from accurate diagnosis. By Clement Anyiwo, MD

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Special to – USAfrica magazine, Houston

By CLEMENT E. ANYIWO, MD and Professor of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, Specializing in Infectious Diseases. Former Dean/Provost of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, College of Health Sciences, Nnewi, Nigeria, and was President, Federation of African Immunological Societies. This is his second commentary as a contributing Editor of and USAfrica magazine.

“The beginning of health is to know the disease” -Spanish proverb.

To know the disease it must be accurately diagnosed. Medicine is an incomplete science. This is why there is intensive research with the objective of discovering new methods to identify and treat different illnesses.

The practice of medicine must have evolved from what is considered today to be witchcraft. Objective evidence of surgical treatment dates back to the Neolithic times (later part of Stone Age) when trephining (Drilling a hole into human skull) was practiced, perhaps to provide an exit for evil spirits from the minds of the affected; it was actually to relieve pressure from the brain. Trephined skulls have been found widely dispersed throughout the world, giving evidence that this was not an uncommon operation of the prehistoric era.

According to recorded history, the first written evidence of surgical practice was inscribed on a stone near Babylon (South of Baghdad, Iraq) about 2000BC. It listed a series of regulations and penalties now known as The Code of Hammurabi. By the time of Hippocrates (the father of medicine), about 400BC, a great deal of knowledge had accumulated concerning such conditions as fractures, dislocations, wounds and diseases. Some historical perspectives tell us that Chinese doctors, as far back as 4000BC, employed what I call The Rule of The Tongue (where diseases of internal organs such as kidney or heart and infectious diseases reflect on the tongue by changing its colour.

Throughout the history of mankind, before the beginning of the 19th century, advances in the practice of medicine and surgery were regrettably slow. Some of the factors that caused this were superstition as well as religious and mystical beliefs. For example, we learn that the first surgeon that performed autopsy in Italy to retrospectively diagnose the cause of death was publicly executed for interfering with a departed soul. We are all familiar with existing resistance to blood transfusion of some religious persuasions. For example, The Grail Message teaches that the spirit forms the human blood: “If a different blood group was used in the case of blood transfusion, then the soul living in such a body would find itself prevented from fully developing its volition, would perhaps be entirely cut off from it because with the blood of different composition the radiation also changes and is then no longer adapted to the soul”. Blood transfusions from one human to another was practiced in the early part of 19th century with success but not without severe and fatal reactions sometimes due to incompatibilities. However, with the monumental discovery of the ABO red cell system and the Rhesus factor (Rh antigen) by Karl Landsteiner and Alexander Wiener in 1900 and 1940 respectively the problem of post transfusion reactions due to incompatibility has become a thing of the past because blood is now matched for ABO and Rh antigen for both donor and recipient.

Most surgeons up to and including the time of Ambroise Pare in the 16th century became famous by caring for the injured during wartime. However, their practice must have been rather depressing since approximately three out of every four soldiers injured in the battlefield died, primarily from haemorrhage and sepsis. Infection continues to be the leading cause of disease and death in both peace and war times. Because of the present high technological pitch of diagnostics and therapeutics, the very attempt to diagnose and treat one illness may produce another, be it through side-effects or iatrogenesis (illness caused by medical examination or treatment) for example infection of prosthetic implants.

With the above-mentioned background, it is not difficult to deduce that man developed myths out of certain beliefs and ignorance. What is Myth?

Myth is a widely held but false belief or idea. In Egyptian mythology we learn that Ra was the sun god regarded as the most important of all Egyptian gods.

Other examples are Santa Claus (St. Nicholas)-an invention of the western Christian church to entice children to the Christmas narrative and the 10-headed monster that kidnaps and keeps forever children that are crying often. “Brief illness” is another example.

Brief means very short, not long or enduring. Illness is defined as a disease or period of sickness affecting body and mind.

Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie, who wrote an article titled ” Death after brief illness” calls it Nigerian disease. 

Obituaries “Death after a brief illness” are replete in Nigerian media, billboards and in posters. I witnessed this during my last visit to Nigeria.

Conditions with brief manifestations before death include:

1. Drug overdose. 

2. Poison (cyanide)

3. Suffocation from smoke or gas

4.Fatal motor accident

5. Electric shock

6. Gun shot

7. Post-partum hemorrhage (bleeding after giving birth)

8. Complicated surgery. Patient passes on operation table.

9. A fatal fall

Some” Brief illnesses” used as euphemism for diseases that the family considers a taboo and want to keep secret are:

1. Cancer (breast, cervical, colorectal, prostrate etc.)


3. Tuberculosis 

4. Pneumonia

5. Sepsis complicating as aseptic shock- a very serious medical condition that can lead to heart failure, stroke and death

6. Sexually Transmissible Diseases (syphilis, gonorrhea etc.)

7. Cardiac arrest (heart attack)

8. Diabetic coma

9. Chronic kidney failure due to uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension.

10.COVID-19 ( A severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by a coronavirus)

At times we hear news that somebody died of prostate cancer when he actually died of AIDS, using prostate cancer, which is less stigmatizing, as euphemism for AIDS.

We need not hide our medical problems because according to Joyce Meyer- a famous evangelist-“Anything buried alive will never die”.

== Part 2 of this special health advisory will be published on Saturday December 12, 2020.