Working couples need domestic staff to help with running the home front. But, the domestic staff need to undergo some medical tests for the safety of everyone.
The Nigerian economy is in dire straits. There is no gainsaying that we have dug ourselves into a precarious situation with our collective prodigality and now all our numbers have gone south. Whether technical or not, our economy has regressed and shrunk dangerously such that the earning power of the average Joe on our streets has been sharply vitiated.
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But, we did not just get here. It has been a slow and steady sail in the seas of perdition – a journey many of us have endured in complete denial but here we are.
Over time, we have seen gender roles shift to match the peculiarity of the Nigerian polity. The man is almost never the sole breadwinner in most Nigerian homes today. Mummy also has to work, either formally or informally, to bring something to the table for the collective wellbeing of the home.
Life Is About Balance
Nature is such an intriguing phenomenon. It is interesting how everything is so deftly balanced that when one variable shifts, even marginally, other variable tips over. In essence, there are always consequences. The economic difficulties facing many Nigerian homes have made it imperative that both parents engage in some form of economic activity to improve the financial outlook of the family unit.
So, in Lagos today, you find either or both parents out of the house by 6:30 am and at work till late afternoon – in some cases, late evenings. They then embark on the journey home, also at peak traffic periods, and get home completely exhausted. For families with children, it becomes almost impossible to get by without some form of domestic assistance.
Culturally, our society affords us such ‘luxuries’. Many people describe them as necessary evils. You need someone to bathe the kids, run errands, prepare meals, attend to other household chores and importantly, babysit the kids after school till you return from the day’s hustle and bustle.
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Test Domestic Staff Must Undergo
Domestic staff like cooks, stewards, and maids have become critical members of nuclear family units in today’s Nigeria. The statistics of homes with some form of domestic staff will make for interesting reading.
With the economic forecasts, it is safe to assume that they are here to stay as one expects families to explore even more alternative income channels to meet financial obligations. If we cannot do away with them, they should at least not constitute additional hazards to us and our loved ones and thus the need to meticulously pick such staff.
The importance of carrying out certain medical screening procedures cannot be overstated as the consequences of not checking could be grave, even life-threatening. These screening procedures help assess the health status of these strangers we inevitably allow into our homes and lives. They can detect indolent but infectious conditions that may pose serious health risks to a small family, especially ones with small kids.
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Some noteworthy ones to be on the lookout for include –
This refers to an inflammation of the liver – the organ that plays a strong role in metabolism and immunity. With a prevalence rate of 13%, it affects 20 million Nigerians and kills close to 5 million annually according to the Society for Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Nigeria. It is caused by four types of viruses – Hepatitis A, B, C, and E.
Hepatitis A and E are feco-orally transmitted, meaning they are acquired by contaminated food and water from an infected host – in this case, the maid. I am yet to see a maid who is not assigned culinary duties. Hepatitis B and C are even more lethal. These are blood-borne and will occur from body fluid exchanges.
Given the level of contact between the children and the maid, it becomes essential to be certain that there are no possibilities of such an exposure. The screening tests are Hepatitis A, C, or E and Hepatitis B surface antigen.
This is a highly contagious and debilitating bacterial disease that primarily affects the lungs – the two sponge-like things in your chest with your heart in the middle. It is transmitted in the air by droplets from an infected person. A person with active tuberculosis infection can spread the disease by coughing, sneezing, or even speaking.
Reports from the WHO suggest that Nigeria has the highest TB burden in Africa with 600,000 new cases reported in 2015. Luckily, the BCG vaccine many of us received at birth confers appreciable immunity against the disease except in cases of lessened immunity from any other causes.
The screening tests that can be done are chest x-rays or Mantoux test. The exposure to radiation during x-rays favour the latter as a screening method. It usually involves topical inoculation of a tuberculosis-specific protein usually in the arm and the reaction assessed a few hours later.
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This is a tricky one. Largely because of the discriminatory issues involved in HIV care. The question is, so now that you have tested the lady for HIV without her consent and she has tested positive, what do you do? Refusing to engage her because of her status amounts to discrimination and stigmatisation. On the other hand, is there a danger of not knowing?
HIV is not transmitted without an exchange of body fluids. There must be a breach of some sort of surface integrity for infection to occur. You should not be too worried if the contact with you and your kids will be casual and non-invasive. A positive result does not preclude employment as domestic staff but should guide precautionary steps to ensure contact remains non-invasive.
This test should be voluntary and must be done with pre-test and post-test counselling. A person has the right to opt-out of being tested. Never force anyone to take such a test.
There are other procedures like stool microscopy, culture and sensitivity, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate. The stool examination affords the opportunity to detect the eggs of different worms that could enter food if untreated.
Worm infestation is a leading cause of anaemia, malabsorption, and dietary problems in children so it helps to limit the exposure from their food handlers. The latter test, ESR, assesses longstanding illnesses that may not be apparent at face value. A deranged value raises the index of suspicion of something more sinister underlying and may require further investigation.
Some schools of thought also include pregnancy tests in the barrage of investigations particularly when the staff to be engaged is female. Being that pregnancy is neither a disease nor a contagious phenomenon, the relevance is quite contestable. Maybe on moral standings rather than medical.
Overall, beyond screening, sound personal and environmental hygiene is key. Domestic staff must be routinely taught proper handwashing techniques. The screening tests can be carried out in many standard laboratories around the metropolis and many are not very expensive. Even if they were, it will be a rational expense to incur given the accruable benefits.
You do, not just yourself, but your entire family, a great disservice by not paying attention to such critical things. The dangers of not knowing are far-reaching. Be guided.
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