Up until six years ago, Africans in America, especially the Nigerians, started to express quiet discontent on the prevalent increase in the observance of wake-keeping for relations who died at home. Fueled by the need to raise money needed to give the dead a befitting burial, the culture of wake-keeping, for some, grew into another reason to party.
And for others, it became an irritation often categorized as another bastardization of our culture because the body of the dead was supposed to be present at a wake.
In the last five years, the bodies are beginning to show up at these wakes. And these corpses are mostly of African men who died in America at very young ages. Members of the African community are beginning to ask why.
Those deeply connected to the African communities in America will attest that no week passes without them receiving a phone call or an email soliciting assistance to raise money to bury an African. In some cases, these requests extend to asking for money to transport the remains of a dead African to his or her homeland. Obituary announcements have become a common feature in various African forums such as the yahoogroups.
And most of the dead are young African men.
Though there is no scientific study to support it, but within the African community, there is a feeling that something is killing off African men in America. Not long ago, New York lost a young Nigerian Attorney Mr. Ike Mbamali, Rhode Island lost another Nigerian, Mr. Obinna Nwabueze and Boston lost Kalu Orji.
In the last two years, over a dozen young Kenyans have died in America. In 2009, 25-year-old Andrew Ndungu Muchai and Reuben Muchene Njuguna died in Baltimore. Another 38-year-old, David Muhia, died in Worcester, Massachusetts. A 22-year-old Philip Gichuki Muturi died in Boston while Charles J. Wanyandeh died in Ohio.
African newspapers abroad are beginning to look like those at home as obituary announcements take up pages after pages.
Dr. Benjamin Nwosu, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told me that, “It is difficult to say with certainty that there is a higher death rate among Nigerians living in the US in the absence of any systematic research study comparing their death rates to those of other Africans, or African Americans, or to the general US population.”
Unlike a decade ago, most Africans can recall someone they know who died in America. Many have been involved in the process of raising money to take the body home. And for such people, they do not need a scientific study to affirm what they feel deep in their hearts. They also dismiss any suggestion that it is possible that the increase in the number of Africans in America naturally leads to an increase in the deaths noticed in the community.
Africans in America are not baffled by deaths that they can explain. Like the death of death of Taxi- driver, Balize Nwokenaka, who was shot and killed inside his cab in Houston, Texas in 2010. Or even the unsolved murder of ex-Super Eagles football player, Uche Okafor, in Dallas. What seemed to baffle Africans are the rampant incidents of sudden deaths.
Though autopsies on the dead are not widespread, most of these sudden deaths are often attributed to heart attacks.
“What we know is that research studies have reported a higher prevalence of hypertension in people of African descent living in the US compared to Caucasians or other Africans living in Africa,” Dr. Nwosu added. “This means that these Africans have a higher prevalence of complications arising from hypertension such as cardiovascular diseases, kidney failure, stroke, and so on.”
Dr. Nwosu who is an attending endocrinologist at the medical school said that, “The reasons for these differences are not known, but scientists believe that these may have to do with both genetic and socio-demographic factors such as dietary habits, poor socioeconomic status, stress, and poor access to healthcare facilities in a foreign land.”
Indeed, most Africans we spoke to suspected that the stress of living in America must be a contributing factor in these deaths. Obeke Johnson, a computer engineer in Lynn, Massachusetts, said that, “People are suffering in silence. African men are not taking care of themselves.”
Whatever it is that is going on, the consensus is that something has to be done.
“These deaths should serve as a wake-up call for a detailed investigation into the health issues facing African immigrants living in the US,” Dr. Nwosu concluded.