Alarm Over Rise in Skin Bleaching Among Nigerians

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By Chioma Obinna

Concerned by the rise in skin bleaching among Nigerians and the unrestricted sale of bleaching agents in the country, dermatologists have sounded the alarm about the practice’s adverse effects.

Under the auspices of the National Association of Dermatologists (NAD), dermatologists have demanded immediate enforcement and regulation of the use and illegal sale of skin bleaching/lightening agents.

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During its 2022 Scientific Conference and Annual General Meeting in Ile-Ife, the specialists stated that the move had become necessary to combat the escalating incidence of skin and kidney cancers and other related diseases in the country.

According to the World Health Organization, WHO, an estimated 77% of Nigerian women use skin-lightening products, which is believed to be the highest percentage in the world.

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The findings of Good Health Weekly indicate that not only are women obsessed with bleaching their skin, but so are men.

Numerous bleaching creams and lotions contain carcinogenic chemicals, including mercury, allantoin, irgasan, etc.

Over the years, experts at the dermatology departments of Teaching Hospitals throughout the Federation have condemned the practise of skin bleaching, which they have described as a major challenge for all dermatologists in Africa and one that requires immediate political action due to the devastating effects of skin cancer, ochronosis, fungal infections, acne, and striae.

NAD lamented the “disproportionate” number of specialist dermatologists in the country, stating that only 81 dermatologists currently serve the nation’s 198 million residents (a ratio of 1:2.4 million).

Urging immediate action, the dermatologists urged the federal government to increase interest in dermatology by continuously educating students and residents about the specialty’s scope and range.

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In a communique, the National President, Dr. Grace Okudo, and the Secretary General, Dr. Chinwe Onyekonwu, emphasised the need for the government to provide adequate funding to improve access to dermatologic care at the community level.

In addition to frequent outreach programmes by dermatologists and training of general practitioners residing in the communities on the diagnosis and treatment of common skin diseases, the NAD advocated for the provision of the necessary infrastructure and financial incentives to improve dermatological care in rural areas.

According to the experts, the dermatological needs of Nigeria’s rural communities have not been met due to the virtual absence of dermatological care in these areas.

In spite of the fact that one-third of hospital visits are skin-related, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) does not provide coverage for dermatology.

NAD contends that incorporating dermatological services into the NHIS would increase accessibility.

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They identified Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in Nigerian dermatological practises and noted with dismay the absence of dermatologists on the committees charged with assisting the World Health Organization (WHO) in achieving its goal of reducing and/or eradicating NTDs.

“The majority of NTDs have skin manifestations, and nearly half can be diagnosed based on their distinctive cutaneous features. These diseases’ cutaneous manifestations are largely responsible for their morbidity, stigmatisation, social isolation, and psychosocial impact.

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“The role of dermatologists in ensuring early and accurate diagnosis, effective management, and eventual control of NTDs cannot be overstated,” they noted. “Therefore, if the objective of reducing the burden of NTDs is to be realised, dermatologists must be at the forefront of such programmes.”

They did, however, recommend that dermatologists and other medical professionals collaborate to increase surveillance and reporting of NTD at the local, state, and federal levels.

In addition, dermatologists must be involved in all phases of programmes aimed at the control, elimination, and/or eradication of NTDs, including policy formulation, programme design, planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.

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In addition to recommending that dermatologists aid in the training of competent personnel in the identification, diagnosis, and management of these diseases, the authors emphasised the need for increased government and donor funding for NTD disease surveillance, research, and treatment protocols.

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