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29 Nov

Hot Girl Summer? Here’s Dr Mbangata’s Health Check!

Well, summer has its perks. Everything comes alive. From the workplace, to friends and strangers. People start greeting in an upbeat and hopeful attitude. 

The euphoria of summer is undeniable. That jovial atmosphere impacts the mind, body and mood positively. Countries like Norway experience only up to 15 minutes of night time during the summer season. In winter, however, they report higher suicide rates which are attributed to the prolonged winter season which is comprised of cold night times of up to 24 hours, stretched out across months. Winter depression is very real. It is thus safe to conclude that the sun has a positive effect on our health and mood. Our health choices lie on the line during this bustling and exciting period of our lives.

The festivities of the summer season put all ages to the test. Peaks in hospital admissions due to uncontrolled and complicated cases of diabetes and the likes is seen. Injuries due to reckless behaviour, alcohol poisoning and many more peculiar cases associated with the festive season, see a peak. All the previously understood reasons for health compliance to medication, lifestyle  and dietary choices suddenly become negotiable. During engaging conversations with family and friends over a bowl of Christmas pudding, the drawn lines become blurry. Or, a wild night out with friends on New Year’s Eve suddenly loosens the tight screws of careful behaviour. Be it not going over personal limits of alcohol, not engaging in risky sexual behavior, or simply not going over the budget for January.  Let us admit it, the ambiance of summer has got a lacing of relaxation of boundaries which could be detrimental. But, unlike the budget test which can always be recovered; health tests can be life-changing-for the worst. Thankfully, we can do something about it. 

Stretch out the tent of support

Having family oftentimes means more support is available to the one in need. It can range from being given a glass of water to take medication, to a listening ear, or somebody to accompany you to the consultation. I recall how I used to be a nuisance to a family aunt who would take me to her doctor’s visits. She loved salt, sugar and all things oily. I would, like a hawk, incessantly watch over her portions as she dished up during dinner and rant as a forward six year old girl, “The doctor said no oil or salt for you aunty Jangosi!!” (May her soul rest in peace). She’d annoyingly tell me to let her be. But that is what family is for, right? To remind us of adhering to medication, loving and supporting one another as we deal with health issues, even during the festive season. When comfortable, do consider telling a trusted family member or friend about your recent or chronic diagnosis. Support plays an imperative role in positive health outcomes. Do reach out. Shakespeare once said, a burden shared, is a burden halved.

Do the most, with the most

The best time to soak up the sun is in the morning before 10:30. The UV rays are proven to be harmful to skin and health as the sun intensifies during the day. The benefit of vitamin D is strengthening bones and boosting one’s immune system. Your sunscreen should be your top layer, always. Apply it at least every 3 hours. Make time to drink up on fluids and eat fruits.

Our bodies are made up of 60% water. We need water for our general health and for that undeniably healthy, glowing skin. 

Traveling this holiday?

Do conduct research regarding required immunizations for the said country or province around  prevalent, potential diseases to protect yourself from. As much as is possible, drink bottled water. When traveling to a high-risk malaria area, do the due diligence of visiting a travel clinic for in depth advice on precautionary measures to protect yourself and family and remember to take malaria preventative medication on time. If you are pregnant, disclose this information to your doctor in case you need permissive travel documentation. Some medication is NOT safe for the little one when pregnant so even if unsure, rather disclose and test. Disclose any supplements or medication being taken during this time.

Sexual health tips

Sexual health begins with the individual. You set your own personal boundaries and stick to them. When one has these boundaries in place, it communicates a deeper sense of identity and discipline within oneself. Life is not about succumbing to external pressure, but about one’s values taking shape within and finding expression outside. Nobody can dictate what an adult can and cannot do with their body; those are personal choices that hold consequences for the individual responsible for the decision-making. This is why rape and all forms of sexual harassment need to be taken and addressed seriously as they violate and traumatize another’s boundaries in all dimensions.

How can one become more responsible for their sexual health this festive season?

Screening for HIV and STI’s is a win always. Knowing where you stand and how to take preventative measures is important. 

For women, going for a pap smear puts you steps ahead in terms of your health. Pathologists are able to identify cells that could potentially grow to cancer early, so that they are removed timeously. There are times when women are found to have advanced pre-cancerous cells and that can be a scary feat. I remember when I was a medical student, my understanding was that cervical cancer is common in older women and in most cases, who have lower immune systems. That has changed drastically over the years. Whilst working in the gynecology department years ago, I was traumatized by the results of a young, healthy patient who was more or less my age at the time, who had just been diagnosed with very advanced pre-cancerous cells (known as CIN 3) with absolutely no medical conditions. This was a finding by chance as she had come for yearly assessments and requested a pap smear. It immediately rang panic bells on how much more we need to speak out about the seriousness of cervical cancer just as much as we speak about breast cancer.

Silent Sexual Killers

It is surprising how many sexually transmitted diseases linger undetected as they tend to be asymptomatic, meaning, one sees and feels nothing wrong at all yet all the while, something is there. Usually, people look out for the obvious, those loud screams of a penile or vaginal discharge, a changed smell in the privates or even sores. Yet, these are not always there nor

obvious. It is only when you test for them that you find them. The silent effects of sexually transmitted infections are:

  • Pelvic organ inflammation which in most cases leads to infertility in both males and females in the long term
  •  Predisposition to other sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. This is because any kind of inflammation causes the mucosal barrier integrity to be compromised, exposing receptors that allow for binding of viruses and bacteria which leads to progressive STIs
  • Easier spread and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases

How can one protect themselves?

  • By practicing responsible sexual behaviour. Knowing one’s HIV status by testing every three months (due to the window period) and starting treatment if diagnosed as positive, with compliance to treatment and regular follow up with one’s doctor. 
  • Test for common STIs, not just for HIV. Knowing your partner’s status and taking the necessary measures to protect yourself and them.
  • Use barrier methods like condoms, the use of female condoms is highly encouraged.
  • Ask about and understand the importance of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) from your nurse or doctor. This is medication one takes daily to prevent getting infected with HIV if at risk.

What does one do if they suspect being drugged and raped whilst drunk?

  • Report at your nearest police station. 
  • Do not shower or take a bath as you may wash off important evidence. If possible, urinate at the Rape Crisis Centre (RCC) as it too can carry important evidence. 
  • Women are to ensure they carry a pantyliner they were wearing, pad or tampon. It is also important to come with the same clothing including the underwear as these may carry evidence of alleged perpetrators
  • Police at the police station will accompany you to the nearest Rape Crisis Centre where the doctor will carry out necessary history taking, examination, filling of the J88 form, and collection of specimens for forensic testing. 
  • It is imperative to do this as soon as possible as with time, any spike drug used may clear from the blood and urine. 
  • HIV preventative medication will be given within 72 hours. This is why it is important to report ASAP.
  • Emergency contraceptives to prevent pregnancy will be given within 72 hours.
  • Medication to prevent development of any STI will be given

Let us look out for one another and ensure this festive season is one of good intentions, beautiful memories; healthy, happy bodies and minds! We may have all been through a lot in the past two years of the pandemic, we may have lost a lot; but, let us be intentional about finding ourselves. In the process of finding ourselves, who knows? We may find others. Tis the season!

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