Dementia: How Prof Uduak Archibong is expanding the frontier
By Edidiong Udobia
According to Alzheimer’s Association, “Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia”. It further notes that dementia is not a specific disease but an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. There is a common misconception about dementia where it is often referred to as senility and this is why most dementia patients are subjected to stigmatization.
Studies reveal that lack of awareness is the biggest challenge to the fight against dementia especially in Africa which has the highest prevalence. For instance, the 2015 World Alzheimer Report showed an increasing evidence of dementia in sub-Saharan Africa, but unfortunately, despite the magnitude of the situation, awareness about dementia remains low within the population and older people are rarely the target of specific health policies. Another report indicates that lack of awareness further contributes most dementia associated deaths in the African region. Citing Prince et al., (2012), the Alzheimer Report further states; “This higher mortality risk in people with dementia in sub-Saharan Africa is consistent with what has been observed in other low and middle income countries of Asia and Latin America in the 10/66 Dementia Research Group studies, where mortality hazards were 1.6 to 5.7 times higher in individuals with dementia at baseline. Those results support the fact that dementia was found to be a leading contributor to mortality in older population of countries with low or middle income”.
Perhaps, it was on the strength of this sad reality that Prof Uduak Archibong; an indigene of Ibiono Ibom local government area, decided to launch a dementia awareness campaign in Akwa Ibom State. Prof Archibong is a professor of Diversity, and Director, Centre for Inclusion and Diversity, University of Bradford, United Kingdom. She recently visited Nigeria and she used her brief stay in the country to create awareness about dementia. “We started out with a reach-out campaign and looking at how we take the message to our communities about what dementia is and how likely we are to live with dementia and what we need to do as a people to support those who live with dementia. So we went to three Local Governments starting with Ibiono Ibom (I’m from Ibiono Ibom), Mkpat Enin and Abak. Then on Friday, we launched the dementia project, the dementia schools project and on Saturday, we had a walk around Uyo and today my colleagues have joined me to see how we can work with Nigerian Universities to advance economic development in our two countries”, she said.
The Dementia Schools Project Awareness Campaign, which was launched on the 13th of July, 2018 at Ibom E-library, brought together participants across different fields including secondary school students, medical experts and caregivers. In his keynote address, the state commissioner for Health, Dr. Dominic Ukpong noted that globally, dementia is recognised as a public health problem associated with loss of mental ability. “Memory loss is usually the first symptom noticed. There may be impaired abstraction and planning, loss of ability to perform familiar tasks, plan activities and draw sample conclusions from facts. Language and comprehension disturbances are not unusual and may be associated with poor judgement, impaired orientation ability, decreased attention and increased restlessness behavioural and personality changes and psychosis”, Dr. Ukpong said.
Dr. Ukpong further revealed that there is poor understanding of dementia among the lay population in the country and unavailability of epidemiology data on prevalence and incidence of dementia which both pose serious challenge to the fight against dementia, adding dementia experts can only depend on studies conducted in other countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. He listed some brain diseases are the common causes of dementia, to include Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which he said is the most common cause. Others, he said, are vascular or multi-infarcts of the brain; AIDS, brain tumour, prolonged abuse of alcohol and other drugs; vitamin deficiency, thiamine, niacin or B12; hypothyroidism; hyercalcemic among others. While highlighting some common symptoms of the disease and possible treatments, the health commissioner commended Prof Archibong and her team for their thoughtfulness, assuring that he will bring the attention of the governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel to the laudable initiative.
“On my own part, I promise to bring this subject and effort of Professor Archibong to the knowledge of His Excellency, Deacon Udom Emmanuel, the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, who is very concerned about the plight of the handicapped in our state. Let me therefore use this opportunity to appeal to health care providers, teachers and indeed everyone entrusted with the care and rehabilitation of those with dementia to do so with compassion and enlist the support and cooperation of their parents as well as members of their extended families. Collectively, we can make the best out of an unfortunate situation. Once more, let me appreciate Professor Uduak Archibong for her pioneering role in this daunting task”, he added.
According Prof Archibong, the school intervention project will be in stages. “The first stage is extra curricular. We want to look at how we can use Arts, Music, Sports in dementia education then the curriculum. It’ll take a lot of time to convince the Education Minister to include it in the curriculum so you can see it’s not a one-off”.
The school project was immediately followed by the street walk around the state capital in furtherance of the dementia awareness and sensitization. In an interview with journalists, the Ibiono Ibom born scholar disclosed that the public awareness campaign was very successful because people showed the willingness and desire for information, knowledge and enlightenment on dementia. She noted that the public awareness campaign was necessitated by the fact that lot of people are ignorant about what dementia means and that people have been ostracising those living with dementia and sometimes due to lack of knowledge seem to think that when people live with dementia, they are senile or considered as witches and wizards.
“Going back from the beginning, ours is not a one-off thing. This project was launched in November 2015 and we have a centre in Eket and right from then, we’ve been coming to different places. Last year, I was in Uyo twice and I gave a lecture at Mboho Mkparawa Ibibio 20th Anniversary. And in March this year, I came back and went to six places; all the Oro local governments, Ikot Ekpene, Uyo, Onna, Eket and Nsit Ubium and this time, we’ve gone to Ibiono Ibom and all the nearby local governments, so it’s not a one-off. We have continuity. Our plan in the first year is to work with 15 secondary schools and in the second year, we extend to as many schools as possible using the pioneer schools as models and in the third year, we’ll merge the secondary schools with selected primary schools and we’re cascading as we go hoping that by the third year, we can have dementia in the curricula in Akwa Ibom state working with the state education board and it becomes a mainstream content within the primary and secondary schools”, she said.
Perhaps, the hallmark of Prof Archibong’s initiative, was her decision to ensure that Bradford University is a key partner of the campaign. This, she did by bringing other scholars from Bradford University to Akwa Ibom and convened a university stakeholders meeting where select university vice chancellors other university administrators across the country met with the visitors from Bradford. Besides dementia, the brainstorming session also featured discussions on how Nigerian universities can partner with Bradford University in critical areas like knowledge transfer, students/staff exchange, funding of research, etc.
“But that will not be possible without the fact that Bradford University has a very big presence and reputation globally around dementia. So we have a very big distant learning program on Dementia studies. We’ve won many awards including the Queens Award on Dementia Care and this has now led to interactions with other universities. The bigger picture is that University of Bradford is doing business internationally and I’m helping them access as many party of Nigeria as possible but I wanted us to have this meeting in Akwa Ibom State. Already we have a very large Nigerian student population in Bradford, about 1200 alumni students. Many of our alunmi are in very key places. We have the best Peace Studies department in the world, so the program is renowned. It’s really important that we key into these things and show that it’s not just some thing we talk about without delivering. So one thing about the exchange is that in University of Bradford, the Vice Chancellor has set up a network of technology universities, so we run the world technology universities network.
“When we were here in April, we signed 8 universities in Nigeria into that network. The beauty with the network is that it’s global, we have Universities from all over the world who are happy to join our vision. We’ll all agree what kind of student exchange and who’ll fund what aspect of the exchanges. So with the world technology university concept, we have a collection of universities all over the world who define themselves as technology universities and by technology universities, we’re not talking about engineering and all that. We’re talking about any university that use its position to impact the world around them. That’s our definition of technology university which means every university can fit in if they want to. As a member of this network, every university will be expected to say how they’re going to support student/staff exchange. So this is a global activity and its less likely to fail. Whereas, if we came here as a stand alone university, we might struggle. But through the world technology university concept, we are also able to sustain our activity.”
Speaking with journalists shortly after the university stakeholders meeting in Uyo, the deputy vice-chancellor (Academics), Bradford University, Prof Shirley Congdon said that the major focus of the meeting was to think about the relative strengths of the institutions and see whether there are some common areas to collaborate in order to find solutions to some of the world’s problems which will be different in different countries too. She noted that at the meeting, the stakeholders decided to use the global Sustainable Development Goals to try and find where they might have strength. “For example, we’ve heard that one of the universities is trying to specialize in War Zone Management and Sanitation. That would be an area we can contribute to. I think the other big thing is that students across the world have got to be more global, we need to be producing global success and students that are very inquisitive and want to be entrepreneurial and want to think about what opportunities might exist. So what we think we could do is possibly collaborate, we can expose students to the experiences that would make them much more effective in a way they can think about their future careers and how we might also work together to get a strong pipeline into Universities, from primary school all the way through and into the universities so that we can continue to raise aspirations of students”, she said.
Also speaking, the director of External Affairs, Bradford University, Mark S. Garratt disclosed that they were in Nigeria for three major reasons; to build their profile in Nigeria as a university that can help students, to develop collaborative partnerships with some Nigerian universities, and to explore ways of doing joint research and collaborations. He noted that there are observable challenges to achieving the goals, but was optimistic that with the right attitude, the goals will be achieved. “There are challenges. What I tend to find is that if people have got the right attitude, then those challenges could be broken down. I came here 3 months ago and we’ve got the same people. They recognise me and I recognise them and we’ve had a very welcome conversation. So I think we’ve got the opportunity to collaborate. Where we’ve got to really work hard is to find the funding sources to be able to make the projects work but I get the sense here today that people collectively have different ideas what to do, either the funding from our government, or the Department”, he assured.
Prof Uduak Archibong’s laudable effort in dementia awareness creation and the betterment of the Nigerian university education through collaboration is already yielding results. So far, there have been relative improvements in the way people treat those with dementia in the few communities she and her team visited during awareness campaign. Therefore, it is pertinent for the government, relevant stakeholders and the general public to give this initiative the needed push for it to succeed.