Pineapples

Despite their rough, scaly green, brown or yellowish skin the pineapples also known as Ananas are juicy, vibrant tropical fruits that balance the tastes of sweet and tart. A pineapple is good for one’s healthy wellbeing with a unique nutritional profile and also a good economy booster.

Pineapples grow in tropical climates such as southern and western portions of Africa. Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Cost are the largest pineapple producers in the continent. In South Africa, the Eastern Cape is the biggest pineapple producing region in the country. Burthurst and East London provide the warm and frost-free conditions to bring pineapples to perfect ripeness. Africa has a unique advantage to profit from this lucrative market for the tropical fruit which grows abundantly on our continent. Africa has a strong geographic advantage, being the region that enjoys all year round sunlight and has a perfect climate for pineapples to thrive. Pineapples grow and perform very well in the many parts of sub-Saharan Africa where the soil and tropical climate is just perfect for them. They don’t require a lot of water and can survive the little soil. Pineapples have long and tough leaves which use the power of the sun to provide all the food and water the plant needs, and they multiply fast and only require little care after planting.

Its fruiting season runs from March until June but pineapples can be found on the market all year round. In South Africa, all produced pineapple fruit is processed at the Summerpride Foods factory in East London, which supplies high-quality concentrate to international beverage industry. Blue Skies, based in Ghana purchases harvested pineapples from local communities and neighbouring countries a large proportion of these is are processed into fresh pineapple chunks, juice and concentrates of which is exported to Europe. Entrepreneurs can make up to three to five times more money if this fruit is exported, for example Ghana and Ivory Cost are making more than fifty million US Dollars every year from pineapple sells to Europe.

Pineapples are high in fibre with a firm texture and it is bromelain rich (bromelain is a relatively rare enzyme which can breakdown proteins) which makes them a far much healthier choice of dessert than the vast majority of sweet foods one can have. The best time to take a pineapple is on its own on an empty stomach and they are a surprise to one’s health. You can enjoy a pineapple as a dessert, fruit, morning or afternoon snack and as freshly made pineapple juice.

Health benefits of Pineapples

  • Digestion: because of high fibre and water content; they help prevent constipation and promote regularity and healthy digestive tract.
  • Asthma prevention: it has a beta-carotene which prevents the development of Asthma.
  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Coughs and colds: as an excellent source of the antioxidant Vitamin C, pineapples can help in preventing and curing coughs and colds.
  • Healing and inflammation: some studies have shown that the enzymes found in pineapples can reduce swelling, bruising and shorten the healing time and pain associated with injury and surgical intervention.
  • Bromelain is currently used for treating and reduction of inflammation, sprains, strains and other minor muscle injuries as well as swelling related to ear, nose and throat surgeries or trauma.
  • Pineapples also contain high potassium which reduces the risk of stroke, protection against the loss of muscle mass, prevention of bone mineral density and the reduction in the formation of kidney stones.
  • Pineapples can help with prevention of the formation of free radicals known to cause cancers – prostate, colon etc.
  • Lowers blood glucose levels in type 1 Diabetic people and improves blood sugar in type 2 Diabetic people.
  • Pineapples also have astringent properties, which strengthen gums and make sure your teeth do not become loose. Astringent agents also help to tighten tissues and tone the body. Prevents also hair loss, muscles weakness and skin loosening does not occur.
  • Pineapples as Vitamin C powerhouse, helps with the boosting of the immune system by stimulating the white blood cells.

So go on enjoy the sweet, juicy and tart pineapples guilty free and share the health benefits!!

By Mazi Marry Phiri

Africa’s Healthy Food and Their Health Benefits

Food is a crucial aspect of lifestyle in Africa. It unites family members and allows them to have conversations at the table. During holidays, Africans enjoy gathering around the meal table – it’s a great way to meet new people or reunite with relatives.

Unfortunately, for many, food is also the enemy, causing rapid increases in diseases across Africa, such as heart attack, type-2 diabetes, stoke and certain cancers.

The number one culprit of food-related diseases is a diet rich in fast food. For many, not only is fast food tasty but it is affordable, satisfying and filling. Additionally, it’s also easy to have during a busy schedule.

Most healthy foods or “Superfoods” tend to be inaccessible or expensive to the average African, making individuals feel like they are not getting enough from their diet. Luckily, being healthy does not always have to involve a visit to the supermarket. In fact, most healthy foods can be found at home.

The following are some African staples that have been touted as some of the healthiest food options in Africa, and some even around the world.

1. Coconut and coconut oil

Coconuts and coconut oil consist of lauric acid and heart-healthy fatty acids, that also boost brain function. Furthermore, coconut milk contains protein and it helps enhance skin and digestive system health. Lauric acid possesses antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties making it an excellent addition to your palate. To top it all off, coconut milk can make a wonderful and delicious “energy drink” due to its massive levels of electrolytes that can hydrate the body and boost its energy levels.

2. Tamarind

While some like to have tamarind solo, others like to make a juice which is rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that can be incorporated into various dishes to boost flavor. The pulp is a great source of fiber and consuming it can also help restore electrolyte balance, similar to coconut water.

3. Teff

Teff is a grain grown mainly in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is packed with nutrients, especially calcium, iron, protein and vitamin C – a combination that is not typically found in grains.

4. Fonio

A close relative to millet, fonio is a grain resistant to drought and also an African favourite in stews, salads and porridges. It is rich in amino acids and fibre, making it a superb choice for your regular meals.

5. Amaranth

Amaranth is incredibly dense in protein, with 30% more protein than most cereal grains like rye, sorghum and rice. Amaranth’s nutritional profile is comparable to those of oats and wheat germ, which means it’s also full of fiber, antioxidants and minerals.

6. Moringa

Moringa has become quite popular over recent years due to its high levels of chlorophyll, minerals and vitamins. Moringa’s high calcium, iron, protein, magnesium, vitamin A and Vitamin C levels have also lead to it being called a superfood by many health experts. In fact, some estimates show that moringa may contain 25 times the iron found in spinach, twice the protein from yogurt, 7 times the vitamin C in oranges and 4 times the calcium in milk!

7. Pumpkin leaves

Pumpkin leaves are consumed all over Africa and are often eaten dried or fresh. You can steam the leaves like spinach or sauté with your favorite oil and seasoning. Pumpkin leaves have adequate levels of calcium, iron, folate, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B and C.

Albinism

Albinism is a group of inherited disorders that are characterized by little or no production of the pigment melanin in the skin, hair and eyes. In Africa, oculocutaneous albinism (affecting the eyes and skin) predominates and affected individuals have sandy coloured hair, white chalky skin and light brown or blue eyes, making them more vulnerable to the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Prevalence in Africa ranges from 1 in 1000 people in Southern Africa to 1 in 15000 people in Western Africa.

Symptoms of albinism

Problems with vision occur in 100% of people with albinism and lack of melanin predisposes them to skin damage on exposure to the sun. Visual problems include; nystagmus which is the rapid, involuntary back-and-forth movement of the eyes, strabismus which is inability of both eyes to stay directed at the same point or to move in unison, nearsightedness or farsightedness, photophobia or sensitivity to light and which causes blurred vision.

Causes and associated misconceptions

Albinism is an inherited condition. It is passed on through an autosomal recessive inheritance pattern. This means that a child must inherit the faulty gene from both parents (mother and father). People with albinism therefore have two copies of the faulty gene. The condition will present in an individual only when two copies of this gene are present. If only one copy of the gene is present say from the father or mother, the other genes will suppress expression of the faulty gene and such an individual is a carrier. If both parents carry the gene, there is a 25% likelihood that their child will have albinism and a 50% chance of their child being a carrier.

Several myths and misconceptions surround the causes of albinism in most African countries leading to wide spread social stigma with a negative impact on the social and psychological well-being of affected people.

Management of albinism

There is no cure for albinism but people with albinism can protect their skin and maximize their vision. People with albinism should undergo annual eye and skin examinations with a skilled health professional. Beneficial lifestyle behaviours include;

i. Use of low vision aids such as magnifying glasses,

ii. Regular application of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) to exposed skin,

iii. Avoidance of high-risk sun exposure,

iv. Wearing protective clothing such as long pants and hats and

v. Use of dark, UV blocking sun glasses to protect the eyes.

Useful resources
The Albino Foundation: http://albinofoundation.org/

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorders are a group of complex brain development disorders. This group includes conditions such as autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, childhood disintegrative disorder and Asperger syndrome.
Autism Spectrum disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication and a restricted and repetitive repertoire of interests and activities. Scientific evidence indicates that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the onset of autism spectrum disorders by influencing early brain development. The prevalence of autism in Sub-Saharan Africa is not known but several experts indicate that it is a problem of increasing public health importance.

Signs and Symptoms

Children with autism spectrum disorders experience dysfunction in one or more of the following areas:

i. Poor social interaction skills: For example being unable to recognize normal social signals or to display normal social behavior such as responding to a greeting, behaving normally, responding to tones or facial expressions.

ii. Poor communication skills – both verbal and nonverbal: This may involve late onset of speech or loss of communication skills after a phase of normal development.

iii. Repetitive behaviors and interests: For example continuously banding an object against a wall, saying the same thing over and over nonstop etc. The pattern of developing these signs varies from individual to individual. While some children will display signs of autism from early developmental stages, others develop normally before suddenly losing social and communication skills.

In Asperger’s syndrome which is the mildest form of ASD, the child tends to be obsessed or preoccupied with a specific interest or object. These children are usually challenged in the aspect of social interaction being clumsy and having few or no social relationships. They also tend to be highly intelligent.

Pervasive disintegrative disorder is less well defined. Children with this form of ASD will display problems with social interaction, communication and behavior but generally have a later age of onset of signs, milder repetitive behaviors and better communication skills than children with autistic disorder.

Children with autistic disorder display severe dysfunction in social and communication skills as well as severe repetitive behaviors. They also tend to suffer from seizures and mental retardation.

The most severe form of ASD is childhood disintegrative disorder which emerges after a period of normal development, usually between two and four years of age. Affected children usually experience abrupt and rapid deterioration in social, communication and cognitive (mental) abilities.
Seizures are a common symptom of this form of ASD. Children do not recover the lost functioning.

Children with any form of ASD are more likely to develop depression or anxiety later in life and into adulthood.

One common presentation of symptoms found in over 50% of the cases reported in literature coming from Africa is lack of expressive language, i.e., predominantly non-verbal cases (Belhadj et al, 2006; Mankoski et al, 2006).

Prevention and associated misconceptions

There is no evidence of a link between measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism spectrum disorders. There is also no evidence to suggest that any other childhood vaccine may increase the risk of autism spectrum disorders. In addition, evidence reviews commissioned by WHO concluded that there was no association between the use of preservatives such as thiomersal that contains ethyl mercury in vaccines and autism spectrum disorders. Several causes have been put forward for autism spectrum disorders and to date no definitive one is proven. Among those proposed by literature coming from Africa are post-encephalitic infections or sepsis, genetic factors, auto-immune factors, and maternal or fetal vitamin D deficiency.

Management of ASD

Medication
Is not prescribed as a cure but rather to control symptoms such as depression, seizures or to improve focus and decrease hyperactivity. Medications may therefore include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics and medication for attention deficit disorder such as methylphenidate.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Helps to improve social and verbal capabilities through skills-oriented sessions, counseling and play therapy.
Speech therapy
This can help to address difficulties with language/self-expression.

In addition, families affected by ASD, need to receive psychosocial support. Increasingly in Africa as awareness about ASD increases, support groups for parents /guardians of children with ASD are being formed in partnership with faith-based organizations and NGOs.

Several alternative therapies are being fronted for the management of ASD. These include diet/nutrition, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and chelation therapy (removal of mercury from the body). However, affected families should exercise extreme caution with regard to these therapies and ensure close consultation with a licensed health practitioner to determine evidence of effectiveness as well as implications for safety of the child.

Useful resources:

Combating Autism in Africa:

http://www.cligon.com/index.php/research-institute/core-centers/autism-research/

Cervical Cancer: Africa’s Silent Epidemic

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer and is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death among females worldwide with over 200,000 deaths annually. According to WHO AFRO, about 70,000 cases of cervical cancer are reported each year in Africa. According to WHO, Africa experiences the highest number of new cases of, and deaths from, cervical cancer in a year. In sub-Saharan Africa cervical cancer affects mostly women in the 20-40 year age group. Risk factors for cervical cancer can broadly be categorized as follows:

Social-cultural factors.

The greater the number of sexual partners a woman has, the higher the risk of HPV infection. Therefore, women who limit their number of male sexual partners have a lower risk of cervical cancer. In Africa, HPV is endemic and poses a very high risk for cervical cancer. Early marriages, especially of young girls to much older men, increase the likelihood of a girl catching HPV at first intercourse,

Biological factors.

Poor nutritional status and infections such as HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) have compromised the immune systems of many individuals. Subsequently, this makes them more susceptible to diseases. Furthermore, HIV-positive women tend to have the advanced stage disease, resistance to therapy and shortened survival

Health system factors

Poor health services are another serious concern for the increased risk of cervical cancer. A lack of an effective screening program aimed at detecting and treating pre-cancerous conditions is a key reason for the much higher cervical cancer incidence in developing countries. Screening programs for cervical cancer in Africa are often undeveloped or non‐existent, thereby affecting the survival rate of women. A vast majority of women who suffer from cervical cancer in SSA present with the disease advanced far beyond the capacity of surgery or other treatment options to offer cure.

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable of all cancers. Unlike most other cancers it is cost-effective to screen for precursor (pre-cancerous) lesions and then treat them before they develop into cancer. Primary intervention entails prevention of HPV infection. This includes abstinence, mutual monogamy, condom use and use of vaccines. HPV vaccines need to be given prior to contact with the virus that is before sexual debut. HPV vaccines should be targeted towards adolescents aged 10 to 13 years.

Secondary intervention entails screening of the cervix using a Pap smear test. Women found with abnormal smears are referred for a colposcopy and once diagnosis is confirmed, treatment is advised.

Malnutrition in Africa and the link to under-development

Malnutrition is known to be a direct or indirect cause of illness and death. It directly causes death especially if severe forms go untreated or indirectly by rendering those affected especially children under 5 years vulnerable to preventable infections. Globally malnutrition accounts for up to 35% deaths among children under five years old. Three forms of malnutrition, which are wasting, stunting and intrauterine growth retardation are the major contributors to child mortality, accounting for 2 million deaths annually. Despite concerted efforts by both global and local players to remedy the situation, malnutrition still abounds globally. As a result, between 2000 and 2015, there was slow progress towards the realization of the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) especially those that targeted maternal and child health. In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals where Goal 2.2 targets “by 2030 end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving by 2025 the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons”.

Africa, especially the sub-Saharan region represents one of the regions where under-nutrition is most prevalent. More specifically, a recent WHO (2013) report revealed that an estimated 160 million children under 5 years are stunted of whom 36% are in Africa alone. In addition, micronutrient malnutrition, or “hidden hunger” particularly deficiencies in Vitamin A, Iron and Iodine remain a pervasive problem in this region.

In the Africa region, underlying factors include traditional practices that may adversely affect maternal and child feeding and health & reproductive care. In addition, poor access to diversified foods, low use of fortified foods, seasonal fluctuation in food supply and diet quality limit achievement of optimal nutrition. Low agricultural productivity is mostly due to poor access to land, information and inputs to improve farm production. High daily workload for women, teenage pregnancy, too frequent births and lack of knowledge of good child care practices have also been listed as underlying factors.

Implications

A vicious cycle exists between malnutrition and diarrhoea among children; malnourished children being more susceptible to severe episodes of diarrhoea and diarrhoea in turn affecting a child’s nutrient intake and ability to absorb nutrients. Children stunted by malnutrition are not only short for their ages but their bodies and brains can incur lasting damage. Research shows that stunted children are more susceptible to disease, tend to do poorly in school, and earn less as adults than their well-nourished peers. The World Bank also estimates that malnourished children are at risk of losing more than 10% of their lifetime earning potential. Costs of Hunger in Africa studies have revealed that countries in Africa are likely losing up to 2 – 17% of their GDPs due to child undernutrition. According to the Lancet (2013) deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals have important adverse effects on child survival and development. For example, iron deficiency anemia not only impairs cognitive performance in children but also, increases the risk of death due to illness and is associated with a higher risk of mortality during pregnancy and delivery.

There is therefore likely to be slow progress towards the realization of the health, nutrition, education and economic development related Sustainable Development Goals in Africa unless the poor nutrition status of women and children is addressed.

The SUN framework

A global push for action and investment to improve maternal and child nutrition: the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement has emerged to address this critical issue. The SUN Framework calls for the implementation and scaling up of two complementary approaches;

The first one is direct effective nutrition-specific interventions, focusing on pregnant women and children under two with direct interventions such as the promotion of good nutritional practices, micronutrients, and complementary feeding. This approach is premised on the critical window of opportunity or the 1000-day period between conception to age 24 months due to the potential for nutrition interventions in this period to have a high impact. Evidence shows that proper nutrition during the 1000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday gives children a healthy start in life. Poor nutrition during this period leads to irreversible consequences such as stunted growth and impaired cognitive
development.

The second is a broad multi-sectoral nutrition-sensitive approach that tackles the determinants of undernutrition by promoting agriculture and food security, access to and consumption of nutritious foods, social protection, care practices and access to health care. This is because tackling undernutrition is not a health sector issue per se but depends on complex linkages between the health, agriculture, welfare, education and economic development sectors.

References

  1. UNICEF, 2015 UNICEF Data: Monitoring the situation of children and women. data.unicef.org

  2. World Bank, 2013
    web.worldbank.org

  3. African Union, NEPAD, WFP and ECA. 2013. Cost of Hunger in Africa: Social and Economic Impact of Child Undernutrition in Egypt, Ethiopia, Swaziland and Uganda.

  4. African Union, NEPAD, WFP and ECA. 2015. Cost of Hunger in Africa: Social and Economic Impact of child Undernutrition in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi and Rwanda.