Africans, Too Are Prone to Bone Loss
By Joseph Gichuki/The East African
A recent study by a
Kenyan gynaecologist suggests black African women are as prone to the bone disorder osteoporosis as their Caucasian counterparts.
The disease, in which
the density and quality of bone are reduced, leading to skeletal weakness and increased risk of fractures has for long been
thought to predominantly afflict white women living in template regions. Worldwide, more hospital beds are occupied by women
over the age of 45 with hip fractures due to osteoporosis than by heart attack or breast cancer patients. Again worldwide,
the lifetime risk for a woman of having an osteoporotic fracture is 30-34 per cent while in men it is about 13 per cent.
The study by Dr. Felix
Odawa found that the prevalence of the disease among post menopausal Kenyan women currently stands at 24.5 per cent.
about osteoporosis, is that it is an “old woman disease,” but experts now say bone loss in women can begin as
early as age 25.
Dr. Odawa’s study
found a 0.9 per cent prevalence of osteoporosis in women who are yet to reach menopause.
The main cause of bone
loss-mostly in the spine, wrist, hip and pelvis- is the accelerated loss of oestrogen during and after menopause. Dr. Odawa
says that he ventured into the research to disprove the long held belief that Africans are genetically immune to the disease.
“It cannot be
that Africans didn’t have osteoporosis before. I think it is because we are ignorant about it and we are never tested
for it, nor do ever present ourselves to the relevant institutions to have symptoms tested,” he says.
The study recommends
“post menopausal women be screened for osteoporosis and collective measures be taken to alleviate the suffering associated
with the disease.”
Since the World Health
Organization identified osteoporosis as a priority health issue in 1994, rapid progress has been made in the diagnosis, treatment,
and prognosis of the condition.
The early detection
of bone loss has been defined as the key to prevention and Bone Mineral Density measurements have been found to be effective
in accessing fracture risk, confirming a diagnosis of osteoporosis and monitoring the effect of treatment.
Dr. Odawa expresses
dismay that there is not a single machine to measure bone density in any of the public hospitals in Kenya.
“It is only at
the Diagnostic Imaging Clinic and the Aga Khan Hospital have this equipment,” says Dr. Odawa.
director of the Osteoporosis Prevention
Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City,
says that rural women in Kenya are more
prone to Osteoporosis because they do a lot of heavy work in the field and don’t get enough calcium in their diets.
“There are many
women in high positions in Kenya. They
should lobby the government to bring in bone density testing equipment and make medication and laboratory testing available
to the public,” she says.