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My New Year message to all readers by Prof Oladapo Ashiru 

I use this opportunity to wish many readers, who have sent regular compliments to me for the informative and helpful hints they have obtained from reading the column, a happy New Year.

In the same way, I want to sensitise us to the events of this festive period. It is on record that this period will witness several outings, such as weddings, engagements, birthdays, funerals, memorials and more. A great number of people will attend functions almost on a daily basis. The consequences of such outings are unknown to many people. I will, as usual, emphasise them with the following stories.

A story that brings our peculiar situation in Nigeria to the front was an experience between me and Prof Adeoye Lambo of blessed memory. As the Regional President of the International Federation of Medical Students Association, my office had dealings with the World Health Organisation.

On one occasion Prof Lambo, the then Director General of WHO, wanted us to meet in Lagos during his short one-week visit to Nigeria from Geneva.  Unfortunately, we could not have the meeting. He managed to put a call to me that, I and members of my committee should meet him at the VIP lounge in the airport as he prepares to catch his flight back to Geneva.

He apologised for not meeting us in town. In his excuses, he characterises the Nigerian situation thus, “This is a very strenuous country, in terms of our activities. One will start the day with a friend’s or relation’s birthday Holy Communion service and quickly go from the breakfast reception to work. He will leave the office to join a funeral service or meet the reception. That is if he did not have to attend a Christian wake-keep the previous night.

“The journey could end up in another friend’s birthday party at night. He gets home at about 10 pm, if not midnight, only to wake up in the morning to pay a visit to his ailing father or mother in Abeokuta before proceeding to an Iwuye ceremony in Ijebu. From there he leaves for Ondo or Benin City to attend the 20- year memorial of an uncle!”

According to him, he had become so tired from this trip and he wondered how Nigerians manage to do all this. His concern was for our health. This pattern continues till this day. The situation described above is still very relevant till now, a friend exclaimed at a social function last week.

The second story actually typifies another health hazard, which is our frequent use of the cell phone. I know a few relations and friends who have died of brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, and acoustic neuroma metastasis. These people were very concerned about their lifestyles. They drank very little or no social alcohol and they were meticulous in everything they did. The only point I could see was excessive use of mobile phones or the presence of several telephone mast near their homes. That led to the suspicion about the probable causes of their death.

It has been reported that 91 per cent of American adults and 60 per cent of teens own this device that has revolutionised communication in the 21st century – the cell phone. Whether you own an Android, an iPhone, a Blackberry, or a basic flip phone, chances are that you check your phone for messages, alerts, or calls, even when your mobile device doesn’t ring or vibrate, reports a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey.

In Nigeria, because this is the only means of communication the figure is close. Nigeria is currently home to about 190 million connected telephone lines, with 145 million having an active subscription. Internet users, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission, is about 86 million.

Another report states that 85 per cent of Nigerians have access to the Internet through mobile phones. The modern convenience that cell phones provide is responsible for everyone’s increased daily use. With an estimated six billion subscriptions worldwide and counting, cell phones have become one of the fundamental means of communication in society.

Everyone must agree with me that in Nigeria the above statistics must be more than double. In most cases, we spend a lot of time exchanging unnecessary pleasantries, innuendos, and greetings ranging from one to five minutes or more, before we get to the subject matter or the reason for the phone call.

While cell phones provide an efficient and easy way to communicate with friends, family, and co-workers, excessive use can take a toll on your health. Mobile phones use transmitting radio waves through a series of base stations where radio frequency waves are electromagnetic fields that cannot break chemical bonds or cause ionisation in the human body, says the World Health Organisation.

Although cell phones are considered to be low-powered radiofrequency transmitters, your handset transmits power when it is on, and therefore it is important to increase your distance from the handset to reduce radiofrequency exposure. The Federal Communications Commission suggests cell phone users keep a minimum distance of 20 centimeters from their handset to significantly reduce radiation exposure. Adults and especially children can suffer the long-term effects of radiation waves on the brain. Don’t gamble on your life, and learn about the reasons why increased cell phone use can have short-term and long-term effects on your health.

Some of the problems associated with frequent use of cell phones  include increased stress levels, increased risk of illnesses in the immune system, increased risk of chronic pain, increased the risk of eye vision problems, and increased risk of brain cancer.

Although the epidemiological evidence is still not conclusive, a number of reports have linked the use of mobile phone close to the ear with brain cancer, while some feel there is a need for more studies. If cell phone causes tumour it is possibly due to the radio frequency getting into the neural cells and covering used for transmission of sound signals.

The respective tumors are acoustic neuroma and glioma. One study concluded thus, “As acoustic neuroma is usually a slowly growing tumour, the interval between introduction of mobile phones and occurrence of the tumour might have been too short to observe an effect, if there is one.” Most mobile phones are sold with an ear piece.

I recommend that you use the speaker phone at a good distance from you or use the earpiece. Enjoy your holiday with plenty of relaxation.

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