When the body is at war with itself

Where is your father?” I asked the little girl. “Papa has travelled abroad to attend to his eye problem,” she answered. “Where is your mum?” “She went with him,” she replied with a look of “you should have known,” on her face. Thereafter, she went on to describe how papa had woken up about five weeks before complaining of severe pain in his right eye. Any attempt to look at light or open his eye made the pain worse.

The local eye medical doctor called it ‘you-vee-eye-tis’,” she said, pronouncing the word syllable by syllable. “I remember he said the eye would be okay within a couple of days but papa felt he would get better treatment overseas,” she added.

An unexpected voice from behind me asked, “What is uveitis?” I turned back to find it was Felix, my friend’s younger brother. From the look on his face, I knew he was worried especially since my friend had been away for quite some time. “Uveitis is an inflammation of the middle coat of the eye called the uveal tissue. It is one of the common causes of vision loss and blindness the world over.

Uveitis may cause blurry and reduced vision but responds to treatment in many cases with full recovery of vision. In some cases, when the inflammation occurs repeatedly, it results in severe damage to the eye which may lead to permanent visual loss,” I explained.

But what is ‘inflammation’?” he asked again. “Inflammation is the body’s basic response to injury. ‘Injury’ refers not only to trauma but anything that can cause harm to the body, such as foreign bodies, chemicals, bacteria and viruses. Like in a community, the body has its own defences – information gathering for surveillance, security personnel such as policemen and soldiers (white blood cells and plasma proteins) and a network of roads (blood vessels) and vehicles (blood fluid and plasma) to transport the policemen and soldiers to the site of the injury,” I explained.

In most cases of uveitis, it is not possible to identify the cause of the injury. The body’s defence mechanism (immune system) inappropriately triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign substances to fight off. Thus, there is disharmony and the body’s normally protective immune system responding as if normal tissues are somehow abnormal causing damage to its own tissues. The body can be said to be literally at war against itself.”

I understand perfectly now what inflammation and uveitis are about. Isn’t it possible to treat the condition here in our country? Why is everybody going for treatment abroad? My brother left for UK about the same time that our President left for Saudi Arabia and I understand that the speaker’s wife recently gave birth to a bouncing baby boy in Ghana?” “My friend, that is something I would rather not talk about,” I replied.

Later that day, in my quiet moment, I couldn’t help but reflect on his questions. How much are these overseas trips and treatment costing our nation? I did a quick mental calculation. Between the three of them, I reckon the nation would have spent at that time. Certainly not less than N300million. When shall we have hospitals in Nigeria, a country of 180million people that can play host to our top leaders and Heads of States?

I opened my TV to watch the news. Incredibly, the first news item was the story of a road accident which had occurred that afternoon involving two highly placed persons. They were rushed to the nearest hospital. Both had died after two hours.

The doctor said they would have survived if he had all the things he needed. There was no electricity and the generator had broken down; no blood because the blood bank had broken down in the absence of electricity and no running water. In an emergency, we don’t have a choice, we have to be attended to in a local hospital. Often, the skills of the local doctor and the facilities at his disposal determine if we would survive to make the journey to an overseas hospital of our choice. The lesson is clear.