Category Archives: Health & Safety

International Epilepsy Day

Today the world celebrates International Epilepsy Day. This day was first celebrated around the world on Monday 9 February 2015 at the joint initiative of the International Bureau of Epilepsy (IBE) and the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE). Such celebration has been the subject of much debate in these organizations until a consensus was reached to mark this day on the second Monday of February every year onwards.

As for other international days, a theme is chosen every year. This year the theme is “Putting Epilepsy in the Picture”.

The aim is to provide a platform for those with epilepsy to share experiences and stories, and for sensitising people, organizations and governments on the need to encourage epileptic persons to live their life to their fullest potential, to have appropriate legislations to guarantee their human rights, and on the urgency of increased investments on IT-aided support and research in epilepsy with a view to securing more appropriate diagnosis, treatment and medication options.

It is a day to reflect upon how we can contribute and how we can join hands together and pool resources to bring epilepsy out of the shadows. It is a day dedicated to those who, by their condition, are looked down, stigmatized, discriminated and marginalized. It is a day that aims at bringing hope and comfort to those often sidelined as mental patients.

But first we need to understand this dreaded condition which affects one in every 100 people in the world.

Epilepsy is characterised by recurrent seizures. A seizure occurs when the brain is unable to organize and coordinate messages coming to it from the rest of the body and the spinal cord through nerve fibres. The person experiences bouts of fits and he faints; his body stiffens and his muscles convulse; the whole body jerks.

Well, most of the time seizures can be controlled successfully through various strategies – medication, psychological and medical counseling, physiotherapy, neurotherapy, massage therapy and social and environmental support, to name but a few. What is difficult to overcome is the stigmatization and discrimination they are often subjected to. That’s the root of most of the problems of epileptic patients.

Epilepsy is all too often misunderstood, whence the backward thought and taboo around it. So let us see what epilepsy is and what it is not.

  • Epilepsy is not a mental illness; rather a neurological condition, although in certain cases an epilepsy can accompany mental conditions. It has been categorized as a disease in 2014 by the ILAE. This, according to ILAE, constitutes “a very important step forward in ensuring that legislators, public health officials, media people and funders see epilepsy for what it is: a major serious health issue which can destroy lives”. In other words this categorization aims at giving epilepsy the prominence it deserves.
  • Epilepsy does not have any spiritual or supernatural cause. By the ancient nature of epilepsy some people believe that epileptic patients are “possessed” by evil spirits and should be treated by invoking mystical powers. This is merely a myth.
  • Epilepsy is a physical condition in the same way as arthritis and blindness (arthritis occurs in the joints, epilepsy occurs in the brain).
  • It can be triggered by various factors, often by a head injury, an infection in the brain or a stroke or brain haemorrhage; brain tumours or structural abnormalitiesbrain not developed properly in the womb or damage caused during birth. This is symptomatic type of epilepsy.
  • However in 50% of people diagnosed there is no apparent cause. Genetic cause is suspected and thus it is thought to be inherited. This type of epilepsy is known as idiopathic
  • In cryptogenic epilepsy, the third type, no cause is found but a structural cause is suspected.
  • Epilepsy is not contagious. It cannot be transmitted from one person to another.
  • Anyone at any time of their life can develop epilepsy. It is most common under the 20’s (case of seizures in unborn child, which will continue after the baby is born. Some are born with low seizure threshold. Others with physical cause); and over 60’s: because they are more susceptible to stroke and other cardio-vascular problems, and because the brain may be damaged as a result of any of these they may go on to develop epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy can simply go away, called spontaneous remission, usually in children reaching puberty. Some children just grow out of their epilepsy, usually by the age of 15 or 16, after which they will no longer have seizures.
  • There is no need to worry. Epileptic patients are no different from others. Contrary to common beliefs, they are not dangerous. If you observe somebody having seizures don’t panic, although it may be scary to watch. Most seizures are not medical emergencies; they end up after one minute or two. Let the person recover by himself. Just keep them away from objects that can cause them harm, if possible put something soft under their head. Once the seizure is over, put them in recovery position. If the seizure lasts for more than 5 minutes or should you observe any signs of injury or sickness, seek medical help.
  • With appropriate treatment and follow-up most epileptic people may keep their status under check. They may lead a normal life like anyone else; they can go to school, work, practice sports, get married and socialize.

Many famous and well known people have had epilepsy in their lives. Here are some of them:

  • Sir Isaac Newton, famous scientist who studied many scientific disciplines and formulated the laws of motion and of gravitation,
  • Agatha Christie, English crime fiction writer,
  • Charles Dickens, English novelist of the Victorian era,
  • Alfred Nobel, Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, armaments manufacturer and the inventor of dynamite,
  • Richard Burton, well known for his distinctive voice and at one time the highest paid Hollywood actor,
  • Chanda Gunn, American ice hockey player. She won a bronze medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
  • Alexander the Great, ancient Macedonian king.
  • Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the U.S. He was subject to epileptic seizures, but was still a man of courage and strength appreciated by many.

People with epilepsy can live to their highest potential provided they get the necessary supportive environment. Each of us, family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, social organizations, governments, has a role in setting up the necessary framework aimed at targeting our efforts towards helping them to unleash their potential and get more self confidence so as to better manage their condition and remain fully integrated in normal life.

For those seeking help and support, know that there are centres around the world that can bring answers to your queries and apprehensions. In Mauritius there’s an epilepsy centre in Port Louis at 442 Boulevard Rivaltz. If you are in Rodrigues the centre is situated at Manique, La Ferme. Both are under the aegis of EDYCS Epilepsy Group. You can avail of a variety of specialist support services.

Wish all concerned with the subject of epilepsy a fruitful day.

References:

  • Alice Hanscomb and Liz Hughes – Epilepsy, a publication of EUCARE in association with The International Society for Epilepsy
  • Website of the IBE and ILAE

Alfa King Memories

Fish Bone down my Throat

I spent one night at the ENT (Ear Nose and Throat) hospital (ex-Royal Navy) at Vacoas yesterday. A fish bone got stuck in my throat at dinner time. That was a fine bone of a small fish called “vielle rouge”.

I was having dinner unusually late. My system was still on the old clock while we stepped into summer time last week. We tried old granny’s method, taking lumps of dry bread and rice, to get it out; no success. The bone was indeed stubborn. My son drove me to the hospital.

The doctor could not locate the intruder in my throat. “Sorry,” he said “you’ll have to stay.” I had no option. After the formalities an attendant brought me to the male ward. A nurse then brought me to Queen Victoria hospital at Candos for an x-ray. When I came back at the ENT ward it was already past 11.00 pm.

The ENT specialist examined me in this morning. “Lay down on the couch,” he said in a hard voice while he asked the nurse to bring the tools. “Tilt your head backwards and open your mouth.”

I couldn’t bear the presence of the forceps in my mouth. It’s nauseating and I was indeed uncomfortable. “Please understand that you must co-operate else we’ll need to resort to complete anesthesia,” said one nurse. “And this is not without risks.”

I started getting more apprehensive. But I controlled myself. I took a deep breath and relaxed. The surgeon drove the forceps down the throat after a couple of attempts. I yelled with pain. “How do you feel, Sir?” he asked.

I sat up and made a swallowing gesture. There was no more pricking sensation. “OK, you can go home now,” the surgeon uttered in a smile. He prescribed some antibiotics and painkillers. I was relieved to be discharged.

It was my first stay in a hospital. I always dread staying in hospitals. Those who’ve had such experience will tell you how uncomfortable it is to be amidst patients whining with pain and snoring at night, especially when you are struggling to sleep. And when you have to go for washing it’s yet another chore.

Any experience out there?

Five Rituals for a Healthier You

We always hear about keeping fit, healthy and adopting a healthy lifestyle. What does that mean? You’ll often come across people saying: “Oh, I eat well, work well, sleep well, and I have no disease; I’m a healthy person.

 

Well, the fact is despite these assertions a person may still be leading an unhealthy life. Have you heard of this: “I just met Mr. X; we had a good time together; he was OK; I can’t believe he’s passed away? Aren’t you joking?

 

Yes, this is a common feature today. Many people suffer from health problems like high blood pressure, stress, cardiovascular disease and diabetes without knowing, until they find themselves in the doctor’s consultation room for an emergency.

 

Yet there are visible risk factors associated with these. Physical inactivity, bad eating, smoking and alcohol consumption habits, obesity, age, and family history are all factors that contribute to worsen your health, slowly but surely.

 

Oh, I mentioned “habits”; the topic of the post is about “rituals”. So let’s get things clear before going any further.

 

A habit is a passive, automatic and often unconscious behaviour, done in repetition although the outcomes may not be positive.

 

Whereas a ritual is something you do deliberately and consciously with a clear purpose in mind. It is more powerful than habit.

 

A habit may be good or bad. What you need to do is to adopt those habits that are good and turn them into rituals with a clear and specific objective in mind.

 

OK? Right, over now to the rituals to help you maintain a healthier lifestyle.

 

1. Eat healthy

  • Know what you eat, how and how much. Don’t eat with your eyes; they may mislead you over a sensible portion. Don’t eat in between meals. Be reasonable. Be moderate.
  • Eat more fruits, salads and veggies
  • Take low fat or fat free dairy foods
  • If you are non-vegetarian, go for lean meat, poultry and fish
  • Check your sodium intake: less of it, more of herbs and spices
  • Grains, nuts, seeds and dry beans are all right
  • Check your sugar consumption
  • Check if you have enough daily fluid intake. Six to eight glasses (about 1.2 litres) of fluid a day are recommended by the UK Food Standard Agency, based on fluid lost by the body; although a recent study by scientists at University of Pennsylvania rules out the actual beneficial toxin-flushing-ability of water. “There’s no clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water,” they say. Anyhow, remember that you need to take adequate fluid to avoid dehydration.

2. Be physically active

  • Unfortunately, modern technology has rendered life more sedentary. People confine themselves to their car, office and home with little if at all any significant physical activity. You need not do vigorous physical activity, nor run or jog. Just simple activities can help maintain a good posture, lower blood pressure, burn the calories and the body fat and improve the circulatory and heart problems. So what in essence can you do?
  • Walk. The Executive Health Organisation says walking is a very efficient exercise and is the only one that you can follow all the years of your life. Studies have yielded definite improvement in health and proved beneficial to the heart and weight-loss of thousands of people.
  • Do some household chores, like gardening, sweeping, washing (car, floor, etc), cleaning the yard. These may not be vigorous exercises, yet will keep you on the move usefully.
  • Leave your car or motorcycle when you proceed to the nearby grocery, bakery or market. Walk. The idea is to break your sedentariness.
  • If you can, do some exercise, like swimming, cycling, dancing, skiing, etc. This will help reduce stress, improve your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, maintain bone mass, prevent osteoporosis and fractures and improve memory in the elderly.

Remember however that there are conflicting views about how much exercise you should do. Some believe 20 minutes per day is sufficient; others recommend one hour per day. Scientific research and studies indicate that a roughly-20-minute-a-day exercise, although will not melt off your kilos, can significantly prevent your cardiac risks.

3. Keep your weight under control

  • Heavy weight is considered a major cardiac risk factor. So all you need to do is maintain a healthy weight. Now what is a healthy weight? Put simply it is one that respects your Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. It is obtained from dividing your body weight (in kg) by the square of your height (in centimetres). 

Consider yourself:

  • Underweight if your BMI is equal to or below 18.5
  • Normal weight, between 18.5 and 24.9
  • Overweight, between 25.0 and 29.9
  • Obese, if your BMI is 30 and above.

4. Quit or avoid smoking and drinking

  • It’s no news: smoking tobacco has negative effects on nearly every organ of the body. It impairs overall health. From lung cancer to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases smoking remains the leading cause of death that can be prevented.
  • Like smoking, alcohol affects every organ in the body. Beer, wine, and liquor contain an intoxicating ingredient in the form of ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Alcohol is readily absorbed into the bloodstream. It acts on the central nervous system with depressive outcomes. How intense is the effect of alcohol on the body depends on the amount consumed, not the type of alcoholic drink.
  • The choice is clear. If you smoke or consume alcohol quit, or simply avoid.

5. Keep a medical watch

A medical surveillance will go a long way in keeping any health inconsistencies in check. Make it a ritual to:

  • Visit your health institution. Talk to your doctor. Keep a health diary and follow-up regularly.
  • Take any prescribed drugs as may be directed.
  • Don’t grab any dietary medication or “health pills” from the street corner shop; seek appropriate specialized medical advice if you intend to go for a dietary programme. Pseudo-medical advisors and self-medication can do more harm than good. Your health control needs to be adapted to your metabolic set up.

If you follow these rituals there’s no reason why you should not enjoy a better health. You can start at any age. A small step can make all the difference. If you eat healthy, stop smoking and do more exercise you could have an extra 12 years’ life. In fact, a study from the University of Cambridge reveals that: 

  • You can live up to five years longer if you eat five fruits and vegetables
  • You could have another four to five years if you stop smoking
  • You can have up to three years extra life if you do more exercise.

The choice is yours now.

 

If you have any other suggestions for an improved lifestyle I’d be pleased to read about them.

 

To your health.

 

You Can START a STROKE Treatment

Leading killer

Stroke is the killer number three and adult disability factor number one in the United States and Europe. It takes away the life of more than 150 000 people every year in the US; and affects some 800 000 new or recurrent stroke sufferers yearly. A definite medical emergency and life-threatening neurological injury affecting people’s health on a global scale, stroke can cause permanent brain damage and death. More than 65 billion USD will be required this year to meet related medical costs.

Tough but possible

If left undiagnosed, stroke will become the leading cause of worldwide deaths. Although the symptoms are not easily identifiable it is vital to recognise, diagnose and treat a stroke victim as quick as possible. Tough but possible, neurologists are optimistic. They say they can reverse the effects completely provided the stroke victim is brought for treatment within three hours. There’s very little hope beyond that time frame.

Scene of stroke

But a stroke occurs suddenly, so fast that it shocks bystanders. It may happen anywhere, at home, on the road, at work; and you may be the only person on site. Imagine yourself with a victim headlong or otherwise, in a weak and confused state. It could be anyone from your close relative to a dear friend, or a fellow worker. What do you do?

Unless you have been trained to deal with emergencies you’ll panic. Won’t you?

But if you know the techniques of recognising a stroke you can make all the difference. You can save a life; you can prevent the victim from getting crippled for life. How? Let us first of all try to find out what a stroke is and how it affects people.

What is a stroke?

A stroke which is also called a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or cerebral infarction is a cardiovascular disease. There are two ways a stroke can strike.

First when the blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked by a clot (thrombus). This condition is called ischemia (lack of blood supply).

And, secondly, when the blood vessel bursts and causes hemorrhage. In either case the brain is deprived and starts to die.

It is therefore vital to restore the blood flow as quickly as possible. A long period of blood deprivation to the brain may cause nerve cells to die. The brain can be damaged permanently and irreversibly.

A higher death rate is associated with hemorrhagic stroke. But ischemic stroke, also called thrombotic stroke, is more common and accounts for more than 85 per cent of all strokes. It occurs mostly at night or in the early morning. It is often preceded by what is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a “warning stroke” which lasts only a few minutes. If you identify a TIA victim bring him to immediate medical care.

What are the effects of a stroke?

The effects depend largely on where the obstruction or disruption is located and how much the brain is damaged. The brain is a complex organ and functions such that one side of it controls the opposite side of the body.

A stroke in the right side of the brain will affect the left side of the body and the right side of the face. The left side of the body is paralysed and the victim may experience vision problems and memory loss, and display quick, inquisitive behaviour.

A stroke in the left side will affect the right side of the body and left side of the face. The victim may suffer right side body paralysis, experience memory loss and speech problems and display slow, cautious behaviour.

Treatment

As a layman it’s not your job to administer treatment. Leave it to the professionals; neurologists and emergency physicians will act according to the type of stroke. For ischemic stroke they’ll usually administer clot-busting drugs while a surgical intervention would be necessary for hemorrhagic stroke. But these medical specialists are not always on the scene of the accident. Can you as a bystander do anything? How will you handle the situation?

What you can do

Well, at least you can START the process of treatment. Note I said “process”, which means there are other things you can do before effective (professional) treatment is available. Fair enough if you know a bit of first aid principles. It shouldn’t be a big deal if you don’t.

The most important thing is to act promptly. Remember every minute counts. Don’t panic. Recognise the problem and call the ambulance immediately. If you are in Mauritius dial 114; in the US it’s 911, otherwise check your country’s emergency number. You are the key person here. You are going to START the treatment. How will you recognise the symptoms? Follow the steps below and give a clear description of your own observations to the emergency team once they are on site:

S – The patient cannot SMILE if asked to; there’s sudden numbness of the face
T – If you ask him to TALK he is incoherent
A – He is not ALERT; has trouble seeing and suffers severe headache
R – He cannot RAISE both arms; there’s loss of balance; he cannot walk
T – His TONGUE is crooked or sways sideways.

Don’t forget you have only three hours for a proper treatment; and the victim needs to be hospitalized within an hour of the occurrence of the stroke in order to allow for appropriate evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.

Learn also to know who are vulnerable to stroke

Basically the risk factors are the same as for other cardiovascular diseases. People with hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, migraine with aura, previous history of stroke or TIA; cigarette smokers; cases of atrial fibrillation, thrombophilia (a thrombosis tendency) and older aged persons are most at risk.

What next?

Take your health in your hands. Doctors cannot do it all. Once you are aware of the risk factors you can take action to reduce the risk of recurrent episodes of stroke. Cardiovascular complications are the result of unhealthy lifestyle, lack of exercise, improper diet or uncontrolled medication. You can prevent a stroke if you adopt a healthier lifestyle. If you feel you are at risk or you have ever experienced a TIA there’s no better way to keep it under control. Here’s what you can do:

• If you are diabetic and hypertensive try to keep these under control. Very often people are not aware they have diabetes and hypertension until they are diagnosed as a result of an emergency
• Practise physical exercise, control your weight
• Control your diet, eat healthy
• If you smoke, quit.

Alternatively medical specialists may prescribe drugs to “thin” the blood.

If you follow the above carefully you’ll go a long towards keeping the stroke incidence at a low level. Not only you’ll contribute to a healthier world population, you’ll also help save billions of dollars for fighting against this big killer.

Further reading:

American Heart Association
National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
KNOW STROKE: KNOW THE SIGNS. ACT IN TIME

Alfa King is a Mauritius-based blogger and emerging copywriter and freelance writer. He is a former editor of trade union newsletter and has contributed articles for various in-house magazines and newsletters. He has written technical papers for trade unions, employers and professional organisations. As a professional in Occupational Safety & Health, First Aider and advisor in Human Resources he has worked with both public and private bodies and conducted training programmes at various levels.

Information Sheet on Diabetes

On the occasion of World Diabetes Day, I’m reproducing an information sheet on diabetes from the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life in Mauritius. It gives an insight of the types of diabetes, the situation in the world and at the local level, risk factors, signs and symptoms, and management and prevention of diabetes. I hope you find it useful as it’s becoming one of the most common ailments of the century.

What is Type 1 diabetes?

Under the influence of the hormone insulin produced by the pancreas, sugar is converted into heat and energy in the body. If too little or no insulin is formed by the pancreas, the sugar is no longer adequately utilized; the sugar content of the blood rises, and the unused sugar is excreted in the urine. This condition is known as Type 1 diabetes and develops frequently in children and adolescents.

What is Type 2 diabetes?

In certain people, enough insulin is produced by the pancreas but the body is resistant to the action of insulin. Again the sugar in the body is not adequately used, the sugar content of the blood rises and the unused sugar is excreted in the urine. This condition is known as Type 2 diabetes, occurs most frequently in adults and accounts for about 90% of all cases.

What is the global situation?

According to the World Health Organization, more than 240 million people worldwide have diabetes. Within 20 years, this number is expected to rise to 380 million. And much of this increase will occur in developing countries.

What is the situation in Mauritius?

The Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) Survey carried out in 2004 indicates that 20 % of the adult population aged 30 years and above have diabetes. This amounts to above 110,000 Mauritians who have diabetes. Furthermore, 12% of Mauritians have Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT), that is, borderline diabetes.

Is diabetes a problem among children?

Children are not spared from this global epidemic, with its debilitating and threatening complications. Type 1 diabetes is growing by 3 % per year among children and adolescents, and at an alarming rate of 5% per year among school children. It is estimated that 70,000 children under 15 develop Type 1 diabetes each year (almost 200 per day).

Type 2 diabetes also is growing at an alarming rate in children and adolescents. For example, in the United States of America, it is estimated that Type 2 diabetes represents between 8 and 45% of new-onset diabetes cases in children. In Japan, over a period of 20 years, Type 2 diabetes has doubled in children, so that it is now more common than Type 1.

For this reason, the theme of this year’s World Diabetes Day, usually marked on 14 November each year, is “Diabetes and Children“. The campaign aims to raise awareness on the rising prevalence of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents. Early diagnosis and early education are crucial to reducing complications and saving lives. The healthcare community, educators, parents and guardians must join forces to help children living with diabetes, prevent the condition in those at risk, and avoid unnecessary death and disability.

What are the risk factors?

A number of factors are known to be related to the development of diabetes. These are:

– heredity;
– unhealthy eating habits;
– overweight or/and obesity;
– physical inactivity;
– smoking;
– alcohol abuse; and
– stress.

What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?

The person:
– always feels thirsty, and his/her mouth feels dry;
– feels tired always;
– urinates more frequently than normal, including at night;
– begins to lose weight;
– may not see clearly;
– has frequent itching around the genitals;
– has pins and needles (‘picotements’) in the legs and hands;
– has injuries and infections that are difficult to treat.

What are the complications of diabetes?

If diabetes is not properly controlled, it leads to severe complications of the systems of the body, some of which are:

– retinopathy (affection of the retina), causing visual impairment and blindness;
– neuropathy (affection of the nerves), leading to loss of sensation and injuries to the feet and sexual impotence in men;
– nephropathy (affection of the kidneys), leading to renal failure;
– premature obstruction of the arteries, leading to hypertension, heart attack, stroke and amputation of the leg.

How can diabetes be managed properly?

(i) take the medicine or insulin injection as recommended by your doctor;
(ii) avoid eating fatty/oily foods;
(iii) reduce the intake of sugar;
(iv) eat more vegetables, fruits and pulses;
(v) control your weight;
(vi) avoid alcoholic drinks or take them in moderation;
(vii) avoid smoking; and
(viii) perform daily physical activity.
(ix) examine your feet daily in order to treat injury if any to avoid infection;
(x) check your eyes once a year.

How can diabetes be prevented?

The adoption of a healthy lifestyle is essential to prevent diabetes as well as other non-communicable diseases. Preventive measures include the following:

– moderate consumption of fatty/oily foods;
– moderate intake of sugar;
– consumption of more vegetables, fruits and pulses;
– avoiding or moderate consumption of alcoholic drinks;
– avoiding smoking;
– physical activity for at least 30 minutes daily.”

Courtesy: Ministry of Health & Quality of Life, Mauritius.

New Occupational Safety & Health Act proclaimed in Mauritius

Just a quick follow-up post to my “A glimpse of the evolution of Health & Safety Legislation in Mauritius” posted on 27 August, to tell you that the Occupational Safety & Health Act 2005 (OSHA 2005) has been proclaimed on 1 September, nearly two years after its enactment.

The Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Minister announced it at a press conference held this morning at Port Louis. He stressed upon the urgent need to review the previous law in order to make it current with on-going developments.

The new law aims at reinforcing the duties and responsibilities of all stakeholders and enhancing their commitment to safety and health at work.

A glimpse of the evolution of Health & Safety Legislation in Mauritius

General Historical Background

Health and safety legislation is a complement of labor legislation. It started with the industrial revolution in Europe between the 18th and 19th centuries. Workers had tough times during those days. They were subjected to long hours of work and exposed to hazardous working environment with the advent of machines. Accidents and injuries were commonplace and workers had to make their own effort to learn how to avoid them.

Measures to preserve the health and morals of workers started to take shape in the UK in 1802, followed by other European countries, namely Germany in 1839 and France in 1841. This idea relating to the health and morals of workers was later translated into what later became known as occupational safety, health and welfare.

Labor Legislation in Mauritius

Until 1988 occupational safety and health was governed by sparse pieces of legislation which became inadequate with time, and inconsistent with the evolution of the world of work with the rapid industrialization process.

Legislation relating to conditions of work dates as far back as 1878 when the Labor Ordinance was introduced. As time went on other legislations followed as listed hereunder:

(i) Aloe Fiber Factories Ordinance 1927;
(ii) Boilers Act 1934;
(iii) Factories (Safety of Workers) Ordinance 1939;
(iv) Factories (General Health Provisions) Regulations 1946;
(v) Workmen’s Compensation Act 1959;
(vi) Pesticides Control Act 1972;
(vii) Labor Act 1975;
(viii) Labor Regulations 1976;
(ix) Health, Safety & Welfare Regulations 1980;
(x) The Occupational Safety, Health & Welfare Act 1988.
(xi) The Occupational Safety and Health Act 2005

Being mainly industry specific most of them had restricted application and did not cater adequately for the protection of all workers wherever they were. For instance, the Pesticides Control Act was pertinent only to the agricultural sector. The Workmen’s Compensation Act was meant rather for the “consequence” of the conditions of work than the “prevention” aspect. It provides for an automatic remedy to a worker who has sustained injury “out of” and “in the course of” employment. The compensation is triggered by the mere accident at work itself, independent of whether the injured is at fault or not. It is thus often referred to as the “no fault compensation regime”.

Health, Safety & Welfare Regulations 1980

At the beginning enforcement of some laws was fraught with difficulties and was somewhat doubtful due to lack of proper framework to that effect. The late seventies, however, witnessed a very decisive step towards the protection of workers’ health and safety.

The need was felt for a new legislation with the arrival of a British Factory Inspector and the employment of a Mauritian Engineer in 1977. The Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare Regulations were made in 1980 under section 57 of the Labor Act 1975.

These regulations too had some limitations. They were applicable only to workplaces in the private sector and only to workers drawing monthly wages not exceeding Rs 2500 per month. Public sector workers were not covered. The onus was on the employer alone. Such inadequacies led to the introduction of another law, the Occupational Safety, Health & Welfare Act (OSHWA) in 1988.

The Occupational Safety, Health & Welfare Act 1988 (OSHWA 1988)

OSHWA 1988 is another milestone. Enacted on 29 November 1988, it was proclaimed on 1 May 1989 after some regulations were made under section 80 (1) of the Act on 26 April 1989. These regulations are the:

(i) Fees and Registrations Regulations, GN 64 of 1989;
(ii) First Aid Regulations, GN 65 of 1989; and
(iii) Woodworking Machines Regulations, GN 66 of 1989.

In an endeavor to provide further protective measures with regard to specific hazards, there were attempts to make other regulations, namely, “electricity at work” and “noise at work”, with no avail.

Main purpose and objects of OSHWA 1988

The Act was made to “consolidate, harmonize and update the law relating to safety, health and welfare”. It lifted the restrictions of previous laws (which became outdated in the light of current development in the working environment) and brought about fundamental shift of responsibility.

The employer was no longer solely responsible for all the acts of the employee. The latter also has a duty of care for self and others who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work. The Act made occupational safety, health and welfare the concern of both employers and employees at all levels, not only those at factory level but also those at top management level.

It applies wherever work is performed under a contract of employment. It extended coverage to both private and public sectors; outworkers; independent workers; contractors; designers; manufacturers; importers; and self-employed so that they could take appropriate measures such that their activities do not become a source of danger to others.

It also established the framework for a more effective safety and health organization, promotion and performance with such provisions as relating to information, instruction, communication, training, supervision, monitoring and consultation.

However, OSHWA 1988 (in spite of its wide scope of action) made certain reservations as to its applicability to the public sector. Some sections, namely section 9 (Posting of Abstracts or notices), section 10 (Keeping of Documents), section 11 (employment of Safety & Health Officers), section 13 (Safety & Health committees); and Part III (Administration) and Part VIII (Registration of Factories) do not bind the State.

Notwithstanding these, the Government took appropriate administrative measures in 1999 with the setting up an Occupational Safety and Health Unit within the Ministry of Civil Service Affairs & Administrative Reforms to cater for the safety and health needs of public sector employees.

One should not forget that some provisions of the Health, Safety & Welfare Regulations 1980 are still applicable. Part XIII (Electricity), Part XVIII (Foundries) and Part IXX (Regulations for Building and Excavation work) have not been repealed as stated at section 82 (h) of OSHWA 1988.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act 2005 (OSHA 2005)

The dynamism of the world of work necessitates a constant scrutiny of the law. Hence in October 2005 a new law was enacted. The OSHA 2005 aims at “consolidating and widening the scope of legislation on safety, health and welfare of employees at work”. This Act unreservedly binds the State, meaning it is applicable invariably in the public sector.

However this Act is not yet in force; it is awaiting proclamation. If it were to be enforced now, the government itself, as employer, would be in contravention due to the scarcity of Safety and Health Professionals at the moment.

OSHA 2005 is not much different from OSHWA 1988, except that it contains more elaborate provisions with regard to duty holders’ responsibilities. Also some implicit provisions in the previous law have been rendered more explicit. For instance there are specific provisions with regard to risk assessment, safety and health policy, vehicle lifts, escalators, manual handling operations and health surveillance of employees. The penalties for offences have been reinforced.

Childhood Asthma Probe

ORMDL3. Does that mean anything to you? Perhaps only a set of letters and a figure. That’s all. Idem for me too. Not for scientists though. It seems to be the culprit. It’s a gene found in a more significant amount in the blood cells of children with asthma than in those without. This higher level of ORMDL3 could increase the risk of having asthma by about 70%.

That’s what a group of researchers from Imperial College London, along with others from UK, France, Germany, USA and Austria, have concluded after a study carried out on more than 2000 children.

Childhood asthma is a common chronic disease. 10% of children in the UK are currently affected. It’s a tough time indeed, for the children as it is for the parents. Therapies have hitherto been limited to attenuating the episodes of asthma, without significant progress into its cure.

Deep probe has yet to be effected into the exact causes of asthma. It is not well understood how ORMLD3 exacerbates the risk of asthmatic conditions in children. But the combination of genetic and environmental factors provides a definite clue.

The researchers compared the genetic makeup of childhood asthmatic and non-asthmatic patients. They probed into the mutational behavior of the nucleotides, the building blocks of genes making up the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid – a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms carrying the genetic information). Mutations were observed and the researchers unveiled those specific to childhood asthma.

The new findings will, it is hoped, pave the way for the development of new therapies. For further information see links below:

More about the gene linked with childhood asthma.

What is asthma?

How can I treat my asthma?

Give…a drop of life!

Let us stop a moment in remembrance of the millions of anonymous, voluntary and unpaid people who donate their blood to save lives and to improve the health of others around the world. Let us recognize their efforts for a good cause. Let us thank them from the bottom of our heart for their altruism on the occasion of the World Blood Donor Day celebrated on June 14 every year.

Giving blood is saving life. Blood is never in excess. Someone somewhere needs some blood to remain alive. The importance of regular blood donation can never be overemphasized. A regular and timely supply of safe blood is vital for victims of accidents, women giving births and others requiring urgent surgical care.

There’s no race, no creed, no color, neither rich nor poor. Shortage of safe blood accounts for more than half a million deaths every year among women as a result of complications leading to severe bleeding during delivery. Although 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries with about 34% in Africa, 31% in Asia and more than 21% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Countries around the world will focus on the theme for this year: Safe Blood for Safe Motherhoodto highlight the life-saving role of safe blood donation transfusion in maternal and perinatal care”. The celebrations are sponsored by four international organizations working to promote voluntary blood donation:

– World Health Organization
– International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
International Federation of Blood Donor Organizations
– International Society of Blood Transfusion

Blood donation campaigns are on. Don’t forget that little drop, it can save a life.

Smoke-free environments

Do you smoke? If you are a smoker, do you know that you don’t have the right to endanger the health of non-smokers? Are you current on the latest initiatives or legal provisions in your country?

I was a casual smoker at one time. I used to take a few puffs from my friends during outings and fun times. Like many hard smokers, I didn’t pay heed to the harmful effects tobacco smoke can have on my health. The only thing I realised and I hated the most is the bad breath that came out; stinky mouth. How disgusting when you have to approach your partner or your mate or anyone who doesn’t smoke.

As I had started to experience unstable blood pressure I decided for a check up in 1998. I was shocked when the doctor asked me if I was a heavy smoker. Reason? The echocardiography revealed dark spots; well this is what he told me. He didn’t trust my word when I insisted that I smoked only on rare occasions; not even one cigarette in a week. If I had dark spots what would be the case with regular smokers? I felt so much remorse that I stopped tobacco consumption for good. No first hand smoking at all. I’m not so sure whether it applies for passive smoking as we are all somehow exposed to smoke in the environment.

Tobacco is known to be the second major cause of death in the world. It is responsible for about five million deaths each year. It accounts for numerous diseases, disability, and malnutrition, loss of productivity, increased health care costs and serious economic problems. In a report in 1994 it was estimated that the use of tobacco caused an annual global net loss of USD 200,000 millions. The current pattern in smoking is expected to result in some 10 million deaths each year by the year 2020.

Studies have shown that smoke contains some 4000 toxic chemicals. These affect not only the smoker but also non-smokers who live in the surrounding by a phenomenon known as secondhand smoking or passive smoking. Secondhand smoke is other people’s tobacco smoke. It can cause serious damage to the human body, like blood clotting, increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease. The risk of such diseases is the same in smokers and secondhand smokers. Secondhand smoking occurs mainly in enclosed environments, in rooms, offices, bars, restaurants, casinos, vehicles and other such places where people smoke.

Secondhand smoke stays in the environment for long and is most of the time invisible and odourless. In a room it may be present after two and half hours even if you open the windows. In a car it’s even worse as all the smoke is concentrated in a small area.

Scared? Well, there’s every reason to be. But we can do something about it, together. Although most smokers would argue it’s not easy to quit smoking. If you can choose to smoke at your own risk and peril, you have no right to put other people’s health at risk. Non-smokers have the right to a smoke-free environment.

That’s why the United Kingdom will be introducing a law “to protect employees and the public from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke”. As from 1 July this year, therefore, smoking in all “enclosed” and “substantially enclosed” public places and workplaces will be prohibited by law. The law aims at a smoke-free environment.

Enclosed premises would include those having a ceiling or roof and fully enclosed except for doors, windows or passageways. Substantially enclosed premises would be those with a ceiling or roof but having an opening in the walls that is less than half the total area of the walls.

So you won’t be allowed to smoke in a public transport and work vehicles carrying more than one person. Smoking signs will have to be displayed in all smoke-free premises and vehicles. Indoor smoking areas including staff smoking rooms will be forbidden; and anyone willing to smoke will have to go outside. There will be a legal responsibility on managers to prevent people from smoking in smoke-free premises and vehicles. It will be a criminal offence if you don’t comply with the requirements of the law and you’ll be liable to fixed penalties or maximum fines upon conviction.

What better initiative than the upcoming UK legislation to crack down on smokers in the context of World No-Tobacco Day to be celebrated on 31 May with the theme: “Smoke-free environments”.

In Mauritius the campaign has started on 23 May and will last until 7 June to sensitize people on the ill-effects of smoking and the need to promote a smoke-free environment. TV spots, forums, radio talks, poster competitions and regional workshops are scheduled during that period.

But it’s all a question of personal choice and conscience. If each of us could contribute in bringing a halt to tobacco smoking, the world would be a healthier place to live.

Migraine?

I didn’t go to work today. I had to take a sick leave. I woke up with a severe headache. The pain was on the right side of the head; typical of a migraine. I’ve been having it since quite a few years now. Sometimes it’s really hectic.

The symptoms vary from nausea, anorexia, photophobia, phonophobia and unrest.

I’ve tried to take pain killers but that doesn’t work for me. What relieves me really is a nap. Sometimes I need a long sleep until mid-day, and when I wake up it’s completely gone. I feel relaxed. The episode usually starts during the early hours of the morning and may last until mid-day. On rare occasions it may persist for the whole day.

Today it was mild. Even then I decided to stay at home as I didn’t want to be at the office in a mood that would distract my fellow colleagues.

As I write it’s 3.00 pm and I’m OK and wish to say “Hi” to all of you, my readers and supporters. Any of you ever had such a feeling? Any experiences? I’d like to hear about it. Just talking about it and sharing experiences heals, they say.

Hepatitis Awareness

Yesterday I couldn’t make it to my blog. I came back very late. It was 10.30 pm and I was exhausted. I had a long day’s work. On Thursdays I usually do consultancy for a private enterprise after my normal work. After a quick bath, a coffee sip and a light snack I rushed to Quatre Bornes. It’s about 15 minutes’ drive from where I live. I had to be at the Gold Crest Hotel by seven to attend a talk on hepatitis awareness in the context of World Safety Day which is celebrated on 28 April every year for quite some years now. It was organized by a pharmaceutical company in collaboration with the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health Management (Mauritius) of which I am a member.

I really didn’t feel like approaching my computer after a copious and relatively late dinner served following the presentation made by three eminent doctors in the field of virology and occupational health.

So what did I learn? I must confess that I had a very superficial view of hepatitis. I took it for granted, like any other disease that infects, affects and then leaves after a certain period. But it’s more than that, as I learnt that it can be a deadly disease.

By now you should be asking yourself (unless you already know about it) what the hell hepatitis is. Ho does it affect people? Are we all at risk? What are the symptoms? Can it be prevented? Don’t worry folks; I’ll give you a feed back of the talk, if you can follow me. Just bear with me.

Well, hepatitis is an inflammatory disease of the liver, caused by a virus. Different kinds of the virus cause different types of hepatitis, namely hepatitis A, B, C, D, E. The most common are hepatitis A and B. They are different diseases caused by different viruses and different modes of transmission, although they are both characterized by the development of what is known as jaundice if the condition persists. But hepatitis B is more dangerous and may even develop into liver cancer. I couldn’t imagine it’s 100 times more infectious than the Human Immune-deficiency Virus (HIV).

The main mode of transmission of hepatitis A is by the fecal-oral route from an infected person. It may be excreted in the saliva. It is also spread through blood (for example by contaminated blood transfusion) or by the use of contaminated syringes and needles. If you drink or swim in water contaminated by fecal matter, or consume contaminated food which has been handled by an unaware infected food handler with poor hygiene, or eat raw food like salads, cold meat and fruit handled by unwashed (contaminated) hands, then you may be at risk. Don’t take shellfish for granted. If they’ve been harvested from dirty water they may be contaminated and put you at risk.

Hepatitis B is transmitted in practically the same way as HIV; by personal contact with an infected person, sexual contact or contact with infected body fluids or contaminated blood, by use of infected syringes or needles. Beware if you are fond of acupuncture, body piercing or tattooing. Whereas HIV is not transmitted through bites, hepatitis B is. If you are bitten by an infected person, you may get infected too. Skin conditions like abrasions, eczema and bites have also been found to be common routes of transmission.

You may also be at risk of hepatitis if you work in sewage plants or emergency services, or if you are a health care worker, day care centre worker, doctor, nurse, dentist, food handler or you work in a food handling industry or prison. Dialysis patients and frequent travelers are also prone, reports have shown.

If you’ve been infected you’ll feel feverish, nauseated, unwell, and experience lack of appetite and abdominal discomfort. Jaundice may develop some days later. The virus is very resistant and able to survive in water and food from about 12 weeks to about 10 months.

The most effective preventive measure is vaccination, although safe and good hygiene practices are essential in curbing the spread.

A healthier heart

Today I had an appointment for the routine health check-up. There’s nothing serious, thank God, except the high blood pressure, which I manage to keep under control with the daily intake of Atenolol 100 mg. Usually the blood pressure is OK in the morning and the evening, especially when I’m at home. But at the health centre during mid-day it wasn’t. It never is whenever I attend the health centre.

“Stressed?” asked the nurse.

“No… why?” I stared at her.

“It’s 140/90”.

“So?”

“…”

I knew that’s why I wasn’t worried. Sometimes it’s even higher. Last time, three months ago, it was 150/100. My problem, I am told, is not so much the systolic pressure; it’s the diastole that’s usually abnormally high.

Today’s visit reminded me also of the diets and the physical exercise which I often skip. I may be regular over one week, and just pass on it the next. And you know I can’t leave my keyboard. Anyway, to keep up with the physical exercise which the doctor advised I resumed the evening walk.

It’s normally recommended to have a half hour walk every day, which, it is said, reduces the risk of a heart attack by some 30 per cent. I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence, but I read about it (this evening itself after the walk) in an article in the Reader’s Digest Asia of this month, “10 Steps to a healthy heart” by a certain Dr Michael F. Roizen. The article goes further in recommending that one should do whatever it takes to get their blood pressure down to 115/75. Means I got to do something about it.

But I walked longer than the half hour; and I always do more. I actually did it for exactly, yes exactly one hour. I didn’t time it. I mean I didn’t do it in the sense of a “course contre la montre” (race against time). Well, I noted the time instinctively when I left and then again when I came back home, my departure point. It was 6.13 pm. Amazing. And I walked six to seven kilometers. Almost. As if I was out to catch up with the backlogs.

Anyway, if you are interested to read the article and know more about ways to have a healthier heart follow the link here.  You may have to login first. Registration is free.