Kenya Osteoporosis Prevention & Elderly Care Service


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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.


Another misconception 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.


Theresa Galsworthy, 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.

Copyright 2006, [KOPECS] Kenya Osteoporosis Prevention & Elderly Care Service