Public health hodgepodge: What are we telling our people?

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By Batou Saidy

In the sentence of holistic health care provision, as a country, perhaps we have a lot to punctuate. However, with the evolution of health care services from curative to preventive approach in most countries across the globe, Gambia also has something to show off in this health metric – that is her continued impressive routine immunization record. But before I journey with you on some of the Public Health fundamentals, I’d like to welcome you all. So welcome to my show.

Batuwo leng.

If you’re a Gambian or living in The Gambia, you must be aware that we have a very fragile health system. But maybe that’s beyond you and I. However, if you’re not aware that this dire puts us in constant serious vulnerability, or even seems to be a seriously sumptuous recipe for deaths or conditions emanating from sad health system failure, then you must be very cavalier. But my “us” refers to average Gambians. They’re the ones that are affected, not certain people that pretend to care about our health system when in reality they and their families don’t even seek our services.


And if you think that’s entitlement instead of hypocrisy, prestige instead of betrayal, politics instead of antics, then you must be very cold in the heart, or at least advancing a special agenda of Sohorr Syndrome. Take that.

Following the settlement of the dust of Public Health Officers’ strike, it’s rather relevant to recognize the contribution of Public Health Officers towards health. Blatant disregard or selective oblivion of this contribution must be inspired by a Jalian agenda of animosity towards Bodofelyaa. But how do we get what we deserve if most of those that should protect the cadre suddenly went on hibernation mode? Supremo what? We’ve already seen a demo. Hey, forget that. I’m not discussing that now. We already had enough riposte.

Most people in this country like talking in absolutes. To them, it’s either you’re really working hard or not, a good person or not, you have compassion or not, you’re a great somebody or not.

They simply fail to understand that not everything can be measured. This is why they don’t even understand that not everything is black and white. Sometimes, it’s grey. Other times, it can even be green.

Bodofelyaa is a noble profession. Albeit somewhat being a small cadre in the health care, it’s the very one keeping the Jollof health system buoyant. If Gambia has nothing or very little to present when it comes to health care service delivery amidst her sister countries in many respects, her routine immunization success comes to bail her out. It ranks high in this metric. And that’s a Public Health function. I mean Bodofels do that.

You know, this is not to suggest that there’s a stereotype on Bodofelyaa, but seriously, many people, particularly the locals and the elderly, think that Bodofelyaa is all about inspecting food items and later on condemning and discarding them. That’s largely their basic understanding of Public Health. I’m deliberately avoiding the usage of “Public Health” to give context, precision and maybe scenario to what I want to put across, but I’ll resort to it intermittently, where necessary. So you may relax.

One senior Bodofel told me when he was going to school that he once visited her aunt, but upon exchanging pleasantries she asked him what he was doing. So after telling her that he was studying Public Health, she couldn’t get the picture. So when he eventually told her that he was studying Bodofelyaa, her facial expression changed visibly. So he had to quickly tell her that it’s not what they think it is – “ka wandi domorolu bong” or “ka wandi bagaasolu faayi”. I mean discarding people’s foodstuffs displayed for sale or throwing away their expired foodstuffs and commodities. But maybe they didn’t know that this ex-Public Health function was in legal conformity.

So when he told her that he was studying Public Health, “jaata kendeya” as it pleases them, that was the time she got it. So you see? She didn’t know that Bodofelyaa is Public Health. Whether that was stereotypical or profiling, ignorance or misconception, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what I know.

Anyway, somehow, this isn’t just about Bodofelyaa because I remember one man telling his nephew, who is a Physical Planning Officer ( I’ll write it in verbatim to convey the context ), “Buba, ali bung boyo bula. Ali wandi feng ti-nyaa bula” as if being a Physical Planning Officer implies being a demolition agent. Haha.

Now let me tell you what I know.

I know that most people don’t know the Public Health functions. But since we are there for them, and they’re our own people, what are we telling them?

Are we telling them that immunization is a defence against vaccine-preventable diseases? Are we telling them the diseases that the various antigens help the body build immunity to? Are we telling them that they’re all entitled to Birth Certificates, essentially their infants? Are we telling them we are well conscious of our environments and diseases of Bodofelyaa interest?

Maybe they need to know the number of babies Neonatal Tetanus was killing before. Maybe they also need to know how deadly Measles was before the immunization salvation in The Gambia.

We may not be able to tell them everything, but if we tell them some things, essentially the things they need to know or the ones they ask us, they’ll probably know some of the things essential to Bodofelyaa; and maybe when they do, they can see value, have hope and whatnots in the Bodofelyaa hodgepodge.

The Public Health cadre is a small but prospective one, and maybe later, my plan of us coming up with The Public Health Magazine can materialize. That can be a platform for every Public Health Binta, Kebba and Lamin.

I’m not into leadership, but apparently, I owe the APEHOG Secretariat service someday.

Batou Saidy holds a degree in Public and Environmental Health. He’s a Public Health Officer and a writer. He’s also a football fanatic and a Manchester United aficionado.