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Why girls now reach puberty early

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Showing all the trappings of a young adult, one would need more than just words to believe that Funke (surname withheld) is just eight years old.

At her age, she already developed breasts, one of the primary indicators of puberty in females. And the way other parts are growing very rapidly would almost give an impression that she’s someone in her early 20s.

But, truly, Funke is eight, according to her dad, who also expressed surprise with the way she’s ‘growing’, and is now unsettled due to the girl’s likely premature sexual attention from men. He is equally unsure if the situation is normal, more so that she has also started menstruating. The medical term for early puberty is called precocious puberty.

Realistically, Funke is not alone and her father’s fear is quite understandable. In fact, her case is a fitting reflection of what now obtains across the world, whereby young girls now show obvious signs of reaching puberty, as against what obtained in the past, say about 20 years ago, when girls wouldn’t exhibit any sign of puberty until about 15 years upwards.

Meanwhile, other indicators of puberty include underarm hair, certain body odour, since the sweat gland would have become active, pubic hair and vaginal discharge, which is a precursor of menarche, the first occurrence of menstruation. All these are now happening to girls below 12, and according to a study published in Paediatrics as far back as 2010, a number of the girls surveyed had reached puberty as early as seven years, evidenced by breast development.

According to a consultant paediatrician, Dr. Rotimi Adesanya, the average age a girl is supposed to attain puberty is 11, but “these days some of them show those signs at age eight.”

However, there are reasons for this early puberty, and it is pertinent to point them out, perhaps to allay the fears of such parents. These reasons include:

Obesity: Literally, obesity is caused by eating too much and moving too little. Thus, if you consume a high quantity of food, particularly fat and sugar, and you don’t burn off the energy through exercise and physical activity, much of the surplus energy will be stored by the body as fat and that leads to overweight or obesity.

This was the explanation given by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. While it is seen as a general problem, obesity has been found to be a major cause of early puberty, especially in girls. Dr. Adesanya explained that girls now reach puberty early because they eat junk food, snacks, oily food, etc., without doing exercises.

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He said these days; children would rather play computer games or play games on their parents’ or siblings’ smartphones rather than go out to do exercise. Thus, that lifestyle of eating without exercising has led to obesity and now makes them to reach puberty early.

He said, “Obesity has strong links with precocious puberty and what favours it is the diet and sedentary lifestyle. Children no longer do exercises; they don’t trek to their school the way we did back then, which helped us to burn fat from our body. So, that is one major cause of early puberty.”

Stress: This is one other factor that has been found to aid early puberty in girls. Adesanya explained that traumatic experiences and emotional problems impact on the female reproductive system. He said this had to do with the interconnection among the brain, emotions and the reproductive system, like the hormones controlling breast growth and menstruation. “Children that go through a traumatic experience or emotional problems may see their period earlier, even though the impact is not as high as that of obesity.

Also, a study by a professor of family studies and human development, Bruce Ellis, and Prof. Marilyn Essex of the University of Wisconsin found that family conflict could influence how early or late girls attain puberty. In the study, which was reviewed on WebMD, a website that provides valuable health information and tools for managing health, they asked the parents of the girls about their economic difficulty, marital problems, parenting style and family stress.

It was revealed that girls who live in families with great parental support and less marital conflict experience their first hormonal changes later in life than girls who live in homes where there are marital conflict, family issues, poor parent support, depressed parents and other such unpleasant issues.

These were identified to be associated with puberty. “Even modest family conflict or stress may influence a young girl’s sexual development and these were the normal stresses of growing up, not serious abuses,” Essex tells WebMD.

Now that it is almost inevitable for children to reach puberty early, because children from the rich or average income earning homes are likely to eat so much or even eat junk food, those from poor homes could be stressed emotionally, and those from either divide could come from home with family issues, girls who show signs of puberty should not be treated as aliens.

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This development has no doubt made them endangered species, given the rate of rape and sexual abuse, but parents have been advised to pay more attention to their young female children, because their changing physique could make them attractive to the males, even when they are not mature enough to refuse such (negative) gestures.

An endocrinologist, Dr. Glenn Braunstein, said open communication, nurture, and knowledge of the child’s activities would be good ways to prevent the child from getting into such avoidable troubles. In his analysis on Huffpost, Braunstein said whether puberty arrives early or later at the more expected time, it is always a challenge for children, especially girls and that it was up to parents, guardians and older siblings to help them to be the finest men and women possible, by assisting them through that stage.

He added, “Parental nurture, generally considered a key factor in curbing risk-taking, may be even more important for early-maturing girls. The thinking is that parental influence can help decrease these youngsters’ susceptibility to peer influence, assist them in developing better coping skills and diffuse negative feelings that might turn into negative thoughts and actions.”

Another solution advanced is sex education, which according to experts, will prepare the girls for the change that is to come and what to do when it comes eventually. However, the experts stressed that one way to make this effective is for parents to encourage their children to communicate freely with them.

A consultant paediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Elizabeth Oyenusi, had said at age eight, a female child should be taught about sex, so they don’t learn about it from outside or do so the hard way.

She had said, “Whether for a male or female child, once they clock eight years, parents should talk to them about sex, and there is no need to use nicknames or graphics, more so that such children are exposed to different images on the television or even the Internet. A girl is ready for such education when her breasts begin to come out or when she clocks eight.”

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Apart from this, parents are advised to teach their children when to say no, and that in certain (identified) situations, it is okay to say no to an adult. It has also been found to be helpful when children are taught where they should not be touched by others; how to get out of an uncomfortable situation and what to do if the adult wouldn’t let go.

A forensic psychologist and expert in the field of mental health, violence, mental health and addiction, Dr. Kathryn Seifert, in his post on Psychology Today, noted that given the way young girls tend to be susceptible to male attention, even at that young age – since they already show signs of puberty – highlighted ways by which parents could avoid such negative occurrences from happening to their children.

She said parents must encourage their kids to talk to them about how their day went, teach them when to run away from an adult, take action and let them see their parents take action when they make reports, which she said would build their confidence level.

She added, “Teach children that the danger may come from someone they trust. Tell your kids that bad touch is bad touch and no one gets to do it to our bodies. If anyone does bad touch, you go to a grown-up for help. When you are not sure about whether something a grown up is doing is okay, ask another grown up to help you.

“Also, take action if you suspect abuse; understand the signs, such as significant changes in sleeping, eating, mood, or strange behaviour that does not quickly go away; and know where your children are and who they are with at all times.”

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Health

53 Health Workers In Edo Infected With COVID-19

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Edo State Government on Thursday disclosed that no fewer than 53 healthcare workers have been infected with the COVID-19 virus since the federal government declared a second wave of the pandemic in December.

The State COVID-19 Incident Manager, Dr. Andrew Obi, who disclosed this during a meeting of the State Taskforce on Covid-19, chaired by Governor Godwin Obaseki, also revealed that the state had recorded eight new cases and one death in the last 24 hours and added that the government will soon roll out more measures to halt the virus’ spread.

“We have, in the last 24 hours, recorded 8 new coronavirus cases and 1 new death.

“240 samples were collected from the various screening and testing centres across the state.

“As of today, Thursday, January 14, 2021, we have 238 active cases of the virus in the state.

“Since the second wave of the deadly disease, Edo State has recorded 447 confirmed cases out of which 53 are health workers. The State has also recorded 202 recoveries and 12 deaths from the disease”, Obi submitted.

He cautioned residents to observe all precautionary measures to guard against the spread of the infectious disease, including compulsory and proper use of face masks, regular handwashing with soap under running water and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, observe physical distancing measures, and limit social events.

The Incident Manager urged residents with any COVID-19 symptoms to contact the Edo Emergency Operation Centre on the toll-free number 08003625000 for assistance or their nearest health facility.

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Africa COVID-19 cases top 3 million, first wave peak surpassed

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As COVID-19 cumulative cases in Africa top 3 million and daily case numbers exceed the first wave peak, the continent is now confronted with emerging variants of the virus. Revamped public health measures are ever more critical to avert a runaway surge in infections that could stretch health facilities to the breaking point.

An average of 25, 223 cases were reported each day between 28 December 2020 and 10 January 2021 in Africa, which is nearly 39% higher than the July 2020 two-week peak of 18 104 daily average cases. Yet numbers may rise further in the coming days in the wake of travelling, gathering and festivities over Christmas and New Year holidays.

Overall cases in the region have risen steadily since mid-September 2020, with a steeper rise from late November. In addition, a new variant of the virus called 501Y.V2 is circulating widely in South Africa, accounting for most of the new infections during the second wave.

Mutations of the virus are unsurprising as the more the pandemic spreads the higher the likelihood of changes. However, preliminary analysis finds the 501Y.V2 variation to be more transmissible. Genomic sequencing has found the variant present in Botswana, the Gambia and Zambia.

Deeper investigations are underway to fully understand the epidemiological implications, but at present there are no indications the new variant increases the severity of the disease.

“Even if the new variant is not more virulent, a virus that can spread more easily will put further strain on hospitals and health workers who are in many cases already overstretched,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. “This is a stark reminder that the virus is relentless, that it still presents a manifest threat, and that our war is far from won.”

Nigeria is also carrying out more investigations on a variant identified in samples collected in August and October. While for now there are no reports of the COVID-19 variant circulating in the United Kingdom cropping up in the African region, further investigation is needed.

With WHO support, African countries are reinforcing genome sequencing efforts, which are key to finding and understanding new variants as they emerge and to help blunt their impact.

WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention network of genome sequencing laboratories in Africa is supporting governments with training and data analysis on genome sequencing, bioinformatics and technical expertise. WHO has also developed guidance on containing new variants and is assisting countries to manage and safely transport samples for sequencing and analysis.

While much progress is being made in building genome sequencing capacity, the more than 5000 sequences which have been conducted so far in the region account for just 2% of global sequencing data.

“We call on all countries to increase testing and sequencing of the virus to swiftly spot, track and tackle new COVID-19 variants as soon as they appear. To defeat an agile, adaptive and relentless enemy, we must know and understand its every move, and double down on what we know works best against all variants of the virus,” said Dr Moeti.

“We must not become complacent. We must persist with the proven public health measures that helped stop the spread of the virus during the first wave – that’s physical distancing, constant handwashing and wearing masks in public spaces.”

Dr Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Prof Francisca Mutapi, Professor in Global Health Infection and Immunity, University of Edinburgh, UK, and Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

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Nigerian researchers call for tobacco tax increase to reduce fatality rate

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Some researchers have said that 23,838 deaths and 602,325 DALYs from smoking attributable diseases would be averted in 10 years if the price of tobacco cigarettes was raised by 75 percent as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

They gave their separate submissions on Wednesday during a Report Dissemination Workshop on Illicit Tobacco Trade in Nigeria held at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan.

The workshop was organised by the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA).

Dr Adedeji Adeniran, a Senior Research Fellow at CSEA, called on the government to think deeply around tobacco taxation and other tobacco control policies towards reducing its burden as well as havoc

Adeniran, who presented the report of a research on ‘Health Burden and Economic Costs of Tobacco Smoking in Nigeria said the country expended more on tobacco attributable diseases than it earned from it.

“In Nigeria on a per annum basis, we spend, in terms of cost basis, more than 500 billion naira on tobacco attributable diseases.

“And if we look at what we are benefitting, it is not in anyway going to approach that.

“This exercise we are doing today in Ibadan, we are trying to talk directly to the public and we are also trying to talk to the government about what the costs are.

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“And in this case, we want government to think more deeply around tobacco taxation and other tobacco control policies,” he said.

Corroborating him,  Mr. Iraoya Augustine, a Research Associate from CSEA, said that illicit trade in terms of tobacco trade was rampant in Nigeria, saying the most effective mechanism to address it is to increase taxes.

According to him, “Illicit trade is rampant in Nigeria especially in terms of tobacco trade. Presently, Nigeria is using a tax rate which is far below the recommended rate of 75 percent.

“And we have discovered that one of the most effective mechanism of addressing illicit trade according to the World Health Organisation framework is to increase taxes”.

Augustine said that revelations from their research revealed that death rate, cancer and rate of contracting disease would be reduced if tax rate was increased by 25 percent.

“let’s talk about increasing it to 50 percent or 75 percent, you will discover that the issues, the economic burden and the health burden of illicit tobacco trade and smoking in Nigeria will be greatly reduced.”

Also commenting, Dr Adeniyi Olabumuyi from University of Ibadan, said there was need for improvement on the nation’s data gathering and recording system.

“I think the economic impact in terms of what the economy has to pay is been underestimated.

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“Government should tax those products so that they can save some part of that tax. That will now be involved in having to manage health-related issues that comes from indulging in such,” he submitted.

He said that tobacco and alcohol ought to carry luxury tax like it was in the developed countries.

Participants at the workshop supported the need for all stakeholders including government to take action towards reduction of smoking attributable diseases.

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