If you ask most mothers from Anglophone Cameroon, they would tell you that they have heard of side pain in babies and children between 1 to 3 years. A good number of them would tell you that one or more of their children have suffered from it. A fraction of these women would say they either administered traditional or modern medicine or both to redress the issue.
Side pain is the name locally used to refer to pneumonia in Cameroon. It is given this appellation because according to most people, one of its signs and symptoms is pain at the side of the ribs. A common method of diagnosis for children is carried out by placing your hands on the child’s sides and applying pressure gradually while observing the reaction of the child to confirm that the pain increases as pressure is applied. Traditional doctors and herbalists probably have other methods that they use or things they look for because in most cases, parents need these healers to confirm the diagnosis before treatment commences.
In modern or conventional medicine, however, signs and symptoms are enough to determine if someone has pneumonia or not. A lab test or imaging is usually required to carry out the diagnosis.
Pneumonia is a serious lung infection. The infection could be bacterial, viral, fungal, mycoplasma or aspiration pneumonia. It can be life-threatening, especially if it goes untreated for some time. One of the reasons is because the air sacs are usually filled with pus or fluid and when they are saturated, this can lead to pleural effusion which occurs when the lungs collect too much fluid. Neonatal pneumonia (NP) is a recurrent problem in sub-Saharan Africa and it’s a main cause of morbidity, and mortality. This gives us an idea as to why children and older people are more vulnerable.
Before I go on, let me make this clear. I am in no way saying that the traditional method of treatment is not effective for I have no reason nor evidence to make such a statement or assertion about the local method of treatment accorded to pneumonia. What I am interested in is the local myth attached to this disease and how this affects our health choices.
It is believed that when someone has pneumonia, especially a child, he/she shouldn’t be administered any injections because this will inevitably lead to death.
People are usually advised to avoid hospitals because of this fear or to reject injections in case they are prescribed. In other cases, people are advised to seek help from both traditional and conventional medicine because it is believed that modern medicine only gives one temporary relief while the traditional alternative is more effective and therefore a long-lasting remedy
In a case where both traditional and modern methods of treatment are used to relieve the patient, drug interaction is a major concern, especially in cases where a combination of herbs is administered to the patient. In most cases, it is difficult to say what these herbs are or to give their chemical compositions. In such cases, there are also possibilities of overdose.
It’s therefore important to finish with one treatment option before moving to another if you cannot say clearly what the chemical composition of the drug/herb is. However, this could still be risky and the health of your liver could be jeopardised if more medication than required is taken.
Doctors and patients should have open conversations about treatment options; when a patient rules out the injection option categorically, think of ways of bending the rules.