You should know by heart your heart’s numbers
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WHEN we were young I used to know by heart how to do multiplication sums of numbers starting from two, three….up to twelve and thirteen.

These days if you ask many young people who go to school to multiply one number with another set of numbers they would pick a cell phone to give you an answer. To your disappointment they won’t get the answer correctly.

Where did we go wrong? Some of us weren’t as lucky to have literate parents because they did not go to school those years. Nevertheless, they knew how to monitor our performance at school. In this article I am writing about the need for you to know your numbers by heart so as to set your mind to stay healthy.

You should know your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol level and body mass index (BMI) that is computed from your weight in kilogramme divided by the square of you height in meters.

The first day I went to school in our rural village I returned home early and found my father working on the farm uprooting some banana stems for his cows.

When my father saw me he was happy I had returned back home early because he knew I would help him to carry the banana stems to a place where he would chop them and put some caustic soda ‘magadi’ inside so as to have them ready for the cows that evening.

Although I was still dressed in my khaki school uniform, which apparently was expensive to buy, my father asked me what they teach you at school. To impress him I replied, we were taught ‘ngombe ana miguu mingapi?’ How many legs does a cow have? To check my understanding, he asked me a follow-up question. What did they say? I replied, ‘ngombe ana miguu nane,’ a cow has eight legs. Ghosh! I got it. “Blali Pau, Punda”.

Although it is more than six decades ago that I was blasted by my father, I do not even know what is blali Pau. At least I know the word ‘Punda’ is a donkey. The first one must be from some English word that my father couldn’t pronounce properly but he must have had it from a ‘mzungu’ somewhere.

These days I come across spoken ‘Swanglish’ words such as ‘faya tingisha,’ to mean a ‘fire extinguisher’ and wrongly spelt words such as ‘excavation’ label on road construction near Makumbusho site in Dar es Salaam and we keep quiet and some people take it for granted that it is alright to leave those without showing the public that we have noticed such gross mistakes with wrongly spelt English words on the road.

This week I saw another wrongly spelt word written ‘sevice’ on a big advertisement board near Kaunda Road at Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road. This indicates how some people do not pay attention to fine details of things that matter to them or even the public gets disappointed.

On several occasions I have asked some smart people which direction is the soldier at Askari monument facing? Is it Ocean Road, Samora Avenue towards Clock Tower or what? In this article I am writing about the importance of keeping important numbers at heart because they matter and help you to monitor how to stay healthy.

You need to know at least four numbers. You need to be proactive and you shouldn’t expect your doctor to know your numbers in order to take care of your health. The four numbers include your Blood pressure (BP), body mass index (BMI), blood sugar and cholesterol level.

You need to know these four numbers at heart. If somebody wakes you up from sleep you should be able to mention what the respective figures for each of the above measurements were when you checked them last.

Since I last started writing a column in this newspaper especially after I had been interviewed about living with a pacemaker for the heart by Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) and Nipashe and other newspapers, I have been bombarded by recent incidents of people getting stroke or undergoing renal dialysis at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) and cath-lab procedure (catheterisation) of coronary heart blood vessels done by doctors at the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute (JKCI).

You need to stay abreast with the numbers and keep them in your mind. Although it is imperative to keep the numbers at heart, you must make sure they are reliable, accurate and valid.

The person taking the measurements must make sure he/she has followed the instructions or standard operating procedures for getting the measurements done. Regarding blood pressure measurement, for example, the American Heart Association recommend the following six steps for taking blood pressure reading. (1).

The patient should make sure he/she is relaxed. He should sit in a chair with his/her feet flat on the floor with the back straight and supported. (2).

He/she should not smoke or drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol within 30 minutes of measurement. (3). He/she should rest in a chair for at least 5 minutes with left arm resting comfortably on a flat surface at heart level, sit calmly and should not talk. (4).

A properly validated and calibrated sphigmomanometer (BP machine) with a cuff size that has been checked whether it fits properly should be used. (5). At least three readings should be taken every time your BP is measured.

However, each individual reading should be done at an interval of one minute and all results should be recorded. (6). The readings should preferably be taken in the early morning and evening. To get a good machine for BP measurement you should buy one from a pharmacy.

Those machines which you tie at the wrist are not very reliable for giving valid readings. In addition to getting the other measurement of cholesterol and blood sugar done you should try to get them done in laboratories which have been certified to be proficient. You should check if the lab has an accreditation certificate.

People who perform laboratory tests are required to have passed (QA/QC) Quality Assurance and Quality Control proficiency tests using samples prepared locally and abroad. Reference labs such as those available at Muhimbili do often receive samples from the UK, US, Canada and South Africa.

To obtain measurements of weight and height you should preferably use the World Health Organisation (WHO) accepted standard equipment for doing biological measurements. You should not take weight measurements using bathroom scales that you find someone carrying on the street.

Those are not calibrated to give you valid and reliable readings. Gernard Msamanga, MD, ScD is a Professor of Community Health, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, P.O. Box 65015, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Email:gmsamanga748@ gmail.com. Phone: 0754 291971.

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