Some Harmful Traditional Birth Practices Among Women in Northern Nigeria
By DR Abdullahi Dahiru, Kano
Every society device ways of coping with its environment, these methods which are products of group experience becomes the tradition of the society and are passed on from generation to generation. Though these practices are detrimental to the health of the people that practice them, they are still retained with great vigour. This brings the question of dropping some of these practices after appreciating their hazardous consequences.
Although the incidence of these practices has been remarkably reduced during the last 50 years due to western education and civilization, those people that have low level of educational attainment are still practicing them. There is a positive correlation between formal education of females and non practice of these practices and vice versa.
One of the harmful practices a pregnant woman in labour may be subjected to is "Gishiri cut" or "Yankan Gishiri". This is a traditional surgical cut performed on any aspect of the vaginal wall using razor blade or knife. The commonest site is the anterior vaginal wall or less commonly posterior and lateral walls. It is commonly practiced in many parts of Northern Nigeria especially during the first delivery as a ÔÇśremedy' to obstructed labour. It is usually performed by traditional birth attendants, local herbalist or barber. Complications include severe bleeding leading to shock, excruciating pain, vesicovaginal fistula, and spread of infections like HIV and hepatitis and painful intercourse later.
Perhaps, after delivery the predominant harmful practice is "wankan Jego". These practices vary among different towns in Hausaland but include taking hot bath, lying on hot bed and taking large amount of ÔÇśkunun kanwa'[ a lake salt rich in sodium]. This practice is still pursued with great vigour, although the occurrence of the practice is diminishing because of greater awareness of the hazardous effects of the practice, and also its economic consequences since a lot of money is spent on buying firewood that is used in boiling the water. This is the reason why the practice is more predominant in rural areas where literacy level is low and firewood is relatively cheap and available. Immediately after delivery and continuing for 40 to120 days, the new mother takes two scalding hot baths each day to keep out ÔÇśthe cold' using a bundle of leaves to splash very hot water on her body. After taking the bath, the mother remains in a well-heated room with a fire or fire glowing underneath a specially constructed dried mud bed, which can retain heat for several hours. A special gruel or pap is prepared from guinea corn or millet with potash [kanwa] and peeper is taken regularly as medicine to increase the quantity and quality of breast milk. The potash has high sodium content but very little potassium and can cause hypertension and heart failure.
Complications of wankan jego include burns injury, severe hypertension, eclampsia and heart failure, and subsequent death.
Since there is positive correlation between formal education of females and non practice of these practices, increased enrollment of females into schools will help reduce the prevalence of these practices among our community. There should be more collaboration between heath workers, religious and traditional leaders to enlighten the masses on health implications of these practices. Government should intensify campaign in media and through the use posters, dramas e.t.c to sensitize people on dangers of these practices.
Finally, these practices do not have any benefit on the women who practice them and in contrast have hazardous effects, and hence our society should abandon them for the better.