Worried about the rising cases of lupus in the country, a group under the aegis of Lupus Haven Foundation, embarked on a health awareness campaign in communities in the Rivers State. Blessing Ibunge reports that residents and indigenes of Oyigbo and part of Port Harcourt Local Government Areas benefited from the awareness and free medical care
Over 350 persons benefited from the free healthcare delivery by a non governmental organisation, Lupus Haven Foundation in communities in Oyigbo, Port Harcourt Local Government Areas of Rivers State.
The group in its two days free medical outreach had a free blood pressure test, blood sugar test, malaria treatments with distribution of free medicines and free eye test was conducted with prescription glasses for about 225 beneficiaries in Oyigbo.
At Stadium Road, Port Harcourt, about 100 persons benefited from free liver and kidney tests by Lupus Haven, even as the group continued the medical outreach and public enlightenment on health.
The group also sensitised the public on Lupus disease.
A Medical Doctor and Rheumatologist, Dr. Tralagba Uchechukwu, at the event expressed worries over increasing cases of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, (SLE), as she sought increased awareness for early detection.
Lupus, according to the expert, is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the body tissues; such as the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
Speaking at the Lupus Awareness Programme organised by Lupus Haven Foundation in Port Harcourt, Ucheckukwu said symptoms include extreme fatigue, hair loss, joint pain, swollen face, rash, fever others, adding that these symptoms can periodically get worse, warning that if it’s not detected early could lead to death.
The medical expert who is a Senior Resident Doctor, Rheumatology Unit at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, said the disease was not a death sentence, regretting that many lupus patients have ignorantly ended up in spiritual homes, instead of seeking medical help.
“Lupus is a condition that the cause is not known but it occurs more in women of children bearing age between ages 18 and 45 years.
“Lupus is not like malaria that can be cured, it can only be managed because it is in the blood. There are no drugs that can completely eradicate it, drugs can only keep it under control. With correct treatment, people living with lupus can still go ahead to live a normal life.
“Lupus is genetic; however there are factors that can trigger it, such as infections, the environment, and too much exposure to sunlight. It tends to flare up when a woman is pregnant hence those diagnosed must work together with their Rheumatologist.
“We have a lot of cases in Nigeria, in Rivers state, we have seen over 30 cases in the last one year. So it’s no longer a rare disease, rather it’s under-recognised and undiagnosed.
“It is not contagious; however, patients diagnosed with lupus will have to be on drugs for a long time. People need to know about this condition. People should be able to say I have lupus, and the average person will be able to understand just like malaria.”
Founder of Lupus Haven and Parent of lupus patient, Mrs Pat Ozigbu, said she began the foundation after her daughter’s friend died of lupus. She also revealed that her daughter was diagnosed of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
On why the foundation was established Mrs Ozigbu said, “My daughter suffered the disease and in the process of treatment, we discovered that most Nigerians, including medical Doctors, personnel were not aware of it and the cost of treatment is very high, we decided to open the foundation to touch lives of Nigerians who are suffering the disease.
“However, since Lupus is not the only disease that is affecting and killing Nigerians, we decided to expand the goodwill to reach people that are suffering other ailments, including the most common and equal deadly ones like malaria, typhoid, highland pressure, diabetes as well as eye, sight related cases, among others.
Speaking further on the origin of the group, she said, “The foundation began on December 14, 2019 (3years ago)”.
Stressing that anybody can come down with Lupus disease at any time of life and that it does not have any age bracket, she added that her daughter on whose behalf the foundation was set, noticed it when she was 20 years old, but it was diagnosed when she was 25 years old.
“And because most people do not know about the disease, when the foundation was set up, we started with Lupus awareness walk round major streets and roads in Port Harcourt in 2019. By then, there were no Lupus disease doctors in the entire Rivers State, they used to be in Lagos and Abuja, but luckily now, a few doctors are now in Port Harcourt.”
She revealed “After the awareness walk in 2019, in 2020 we went to Buguma in Asari-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers, twice for free medical outreach, and twice in Port Harcourt City LGA last year (2021) and now we are here in a community in Oyibo LGA for the first leg in this year, another one will be held during my Lupus Survivor daughter in the month of December in another part of the state.
“As part of this year’s outreach, free kidney and liver function tests were carried for those that needed it to crown the exercise for the month of May”.
Asked the choice of the period for the outreach Ozigbo said, “month of May is declared Lupus month, it is a period set aside globally to create awareness of the disease, while December is the birth month of the person affected with the disease.
“Rather than celebrate her special day quietly or loudly with friends and family members alone, she uses the period to make people know about the disease and to touch lives, preaching the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.
Asked the number of persons they expected to reach out to in the medical event she said “Today, we intended to see about 150 patients, but on our record, the number of persons, including children who have registered is about 350, and more people are still coming, we are prepared and ready from them, including our eye section, we have enough consumables for everyone that will come.” she assured.
Also, a lupus patient and daughter of the founder of the group, Miss Ijeoma Ozigbu, who was diagnosed of lupus eight years ago, advised people living with the disease to speak out so as to get the necessary medical support, regretted that in 2022 alone, four people have died of lupus.
“In Nigeria we have a group (people with lupus) and the number keeps increasing. This year alone about four people have died of lupus, one of them was diagnosed late, and her family couldn’t afford to treat her.
“Pregnancy makes it worse, I lost a friend a few years ago to lupus and that’s why my mom and I decided to start this foundation. She was pregnant, lupus affected her brain, she had an aneurysm and died.”
Beneficiaries of the free medical care and sensitisation programme, appreciated the gesture by the foundation.
Chief Ezekiel Iwela, who represented the Eze Oha Oyigbo (Oyigbo traditional leaders), told THISDAY “We are here to benefit from this free health medical by Lupus Haven Foundation. Members of my community are here.
“Most of my people that came got their treatment and ran back to continue with their businesses. We want to thank them for assisting the community in tackling our different health challenges. We have a good community relationship with the organisation and it has benefitted us more”.
The 64 year old Iwela revealed that “I had an eye check and at the end I was given a free glass”.
Another beneficiary, Josephine Osoka, 73, said “Ill health brought me to this place so that the doctor can see me and direct his nurses on how to take care of me”.
A young mother, who benefitted from the outreach alongside her children, revealed “They took care of my blood pressure challenge, treating my children malaria which they diagnosed during a health examination.
“I appreciate God so much for bringing Lupus Haven Foundation to us because I know the monetary value if I should go to the hospital with my children. We were also educated on the disease’ Lupus”.