A successful start in Nigeria: a great symposium and interactive radio show

Last summer, the Dora team organized the very first symposium to launch the Nigerian sister project. The event was held in an auditorium at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nigeria and attracted a lot of people, including college staff, students, and members of the public, including the State Commissioner for Health of Anambra (the state where the university is located). Let’s look back on this special day! In addition to that, the Dora team was welcomed in a radio show. No need to worry if you missed it because in this blog you will discover how it went, as if you were there. 🙂

The Dora symposium: a huge success

To start off, the audience got to know the origin of ‘Dora’ through the words of Professor Nneka Agbakoba, who is the coordinator of the project. Make sure to check our previous blogpost to read about Dora Akunyili, the amazing woman that we want to honor, and to discover the core objectives of the project. 🙂

Picture 1: The attentive audience during the launch of the Dora project.

Secondly, the opening speech of the chairman of the symposium, Professor Joseph I.B. Adimma, followed. He was the former Anambra State Commissioner of Health and delivered the first ever Jubilee Academic Lecture in the University. He was very enthusiastic about the symposium and clarified that this event was the first of its kind to discuss vaginal microbiome research. According to him, the vagina is the most cherished commodity of a woman, and it must be considered as her strength and power and therefore be respected and kept healthy.

After this great introduction, the planned series of talks could take off. First, our keynote speaker and consultant gynaecologist, Dr. George Eleje, presented his article ‘Vaginal health: facts and myths’. He took the audience down a memory lane on the physiology of the vagina, the meaning of vaginal health, common vaginal problems and myths. His lecture was illuminating and educative. It really informed the audience on the various incorrect myths about vaginal health and vaginal problems, and, above all, on how to take good care of the vagina.

The second speaker, Dr. Ogoo Odimgbe, presented her article ‘Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): an overview’. This virus might ring a bell: definitely check out Leila’s blogpost about Fatima, the Moroccan sister project that studies vaginal health and HPV. Dr. Ogoo Odimgbe reawakened awareness on the dangers of HPV by stating that every minute a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and that every two minutes a woman dies of cervical cancer. Persistent HPV infection can cause cervical cancer as was clearly shown in Leila’s blog too. Regular screening (for early detection) and HPV vaccination are key to prevent the high mortality rate.

Picture 2: Dr. George Eleje (the keynote speaker) and some members of the Dora project committee.

In the next talk, Professor Nneka Agbakoba, the country coordinator of the Dora project, presented a paper entitled ‘Probiotics and vaginal health’. The definition of the World Health Organization (WHO) states that probiotics are “live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host”. She noted that probiotics are friendly, good and healthy bacteria which play an important role in improving immunological, urogenital, digestive and respiratory functions and alleviating infectious diseases in humans and animals. She explained that probiotics may come in form of fermented foods such as pickled vegetables, beverages, dairy products and soy products which can increase beneficial bacteria and reduce harmful bacteria, and thus might further maintain the stability of vaginal microbiota.

In the following talk, the chief host of the event, Professor Sir Gerald Udigwe congratulated the Dora team for the innovative and creative nature of the project. He mentioned that the vagina forms the window to reproductive health, and it could complicate reproduction if the vaginal microbial community is imbalanced. Subsequently, the Chief Medical Director of the university hospital, Dr. Joseph Ugboaja, ably represented at the occasion by Professor Chigozie Ifeadike, warmly extended the appreciations to the Dora team. She noted that the symposium was perfectly timed as it embodies an avenue for informing young girls on the importance of vaginal health.

Lastly, the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Afam Obidike, ably represented by Dr. Cyril Aneme, Director of Public Health in the Ministry of Health, took the stage and also praised the Dora project. He stated that it calls for a joint effort, like this symposium, in tandem with the National Assembly, to combat taboos associated with vaginal health. He further encouraged the audience to keep spreading the messages learned by the symposium for wider awareness. Altogether, the event was a big success! 🙂

Dora on the radio

But that’s not all. There is a second brand-new Nigerian highlight! The Dora team was welcomed in a radio show. It was an interactive one-hour session (the radio show is still available on Facebook!) where listeners were allowed to ask questions.

Picture 3: From left to right: Dr. Dorothy Ezeagwuna, Prof. Nneka Agbakoba, Chioma (radio program anchor), Dr. Amaka Nwankwo and Dr. Barbara Ochiabuto.

First, the radio listeners got to know the major objectives of the Dora project. The Dora team noticed that Nigerian people rarely use the word ‘vagina’, to the extent that even many mothers shy away from mentioning it to their children. They rather instill fear in their children by listing taboos, myths and misconceptions about the vagina. Then, their female children become adults that avoid talking to their doctors about any abnormal feeling in and around the vagina or abnormal discharge shedding from the vagina.

After the Dora project was introduced, the listeners were educated on different types of vaginal infections that can occur and accompanying vaginal discharges. They also got to know that normal vaginal fluid just cleanses the vagina. But they were wondering how to differentiate between normal and abnormal vaginal discharge. To be sure of that, we advised them to consult a doctor, who will then collect a vaginal sample and send it for laboratory investigations to decide further on an appropriate treatment if needed.

Next, the Dora team went a step further by telling the listeners that many bacteria can live in the vagina and that beneficial ones protect the vagina from the invasion of pathogens. Beneficial vaginal bacteria play a central role in the Dora project and of course got the attention they deserve during the show. 🙂

The listeners were wondering how the Dora team plans to halt various misconceptions on vaginal health. We will try to achieve this by visiting several women groups, schools, communities, churches and so on, and also by talking to women through various media, as now on radio, but also on television, through print media and via social media. We will also try to involve the Nigerian government as much as possible and seek for funding that will enable us to use high-tech methods (yes, doing vaginal microbiome research can be expensive!). By doing this research, we will be able to isolate beneficial bacteria that can in the (near) future hopefully be used to prepare products for the treatment of vaginal infections and as such, aid in improving the sexual and reproductive health of women. We are really looking forward to obtaining these goals, you too!? 🙂

To end, we like to share some of the questions that were asked by the listeners:

This blog was contributed by Bright Anyanwu (Unizik College Secretary), Professor Cecilia Eme, Professor Nneka Agbakoba and Kingsley Anukam.