Andrea Steffens

Ashlar Associate, Taiwo Lateef Sheikh Honored

My Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I present to you the Merit Award (for excellence in promotion of human and healthcare development in Nigeria) bestowed on me by Sir Ahmadu Bello (Sardauna) Memorial Foundation, and presented by the Chairman, Justice Mamman Nasir, former Chief Justice of Nigeria. Today, it is the most prestigious merit award in Northern Nigeria, the Foundation is supported by the nineteen (19) Northern Governors and the friends and family of the Late Sardauna of Sokoto. I wish to humbly express my deep appreciation for your congratulatory messages and kind words. This award is for psychiatry and I believe that it will lead to a better understanding of the role of the Psychiatrist in our National development and as well mitigate stigma. I thank all those who worked and supported me to make our collective efforts visible and those who challenged me and made the good in me to manifest.


Pregnancy, it's more complex than we thought....

You stand in the check out line at the grocery store unconsciously rocking a can of tomato juice with the same tenderness you rocked your infant children. It is an occupational hazard; you automatically cuddle, hum to and rock anything larger than an egg. The sound of the word Mother sends your head re-actively twirling,  whenever you hear any small voice call, regardless of the fact that it has been forty plus years since you heard your youngest call Mommy with the same desperation. The biological wiring whether used or not, remains in place. Still you respond.  And should you, while driving, make a sudden stop, you will automatically put your arm across the passenger seat to protect the phantom child for whom your responsibility stopped years ago, that same child who now has a grown child of her own and thrusts her arm across passenger seats at sudden stops and rocks her a can of tomato juice in the grocery line. Basically, we are "wired" as mother and child, to interact in very specific ways and if you think it is going to be over in 18 years, maybe even 25, think again.  You forgot to read the fine print in the contract. 

Speaking of reading: A friend shared an article by Maria Barinaga in Science magazine of June 21, 2002 that deals with the symbiotic relationship between mother and fetus.  Guess what, cells from a fetus can live on in the mother’s body for decades AFTER a pregnancy …and a mother’s cells can also survive for many years in her child.  When this was first reported in the  mid 1990’s scientists had a good laugh – ah come on,  this can’t be true – but now it is general knowledge – except for people like me who don’t learn about it until later …and I find this absolutely amazing.  How about you.

It is being speculated that cells from the infant may also contribute to some of the auto-immune disorders that are more common in women than men.  It’s entirely possible that these cells perceive the foreign-ness of the mother and attack her tissues which then call her immune cells into battle and voila, an autoimmune disorder. It also works both ways: maternal cells were found in the inflamed muscle tissue of children and young adults with auto-immune disorders. 

Some of these cells can be a benign presence, a self-perpetuating line of stem cells that can reproduce and even give rise to other types of cells, all without harming the mother and sometimes, this is what got me, even helping build tissue  – one of the more dramatic examples cited, was that of a women with hepatitis C.  ..a biopsy done on her liver revealed that a large part was male tissue surrounded by female tissue -- maybe the cells are responding to the disease, Tufts scientist Diana Biachi said.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if one of the benefits of being pregnant is that you get, as a reward, a second population of stem cells? 

To Any One of My Children:

There is a thin invisible seam between you and me so that distance makes no difference in our conversations, they go on in spite of our best attempts to leave each other behind. we are connected whether we like it or not  made from the same earth, rising, like a  lost civilization  covered in jungle’s growth, buried in sand,  quaked, shaken and flooded deep in the ocean’s water, still  we rise up body through body, coming home to ourselves and each other The invisible seam between us is a scar, tougher than either of us. 

It’s no news to us that science is showing that the boundaries of life are far less solid than thought to be – we are ourselves and each other – for better or worse.

Why Medicine Often has Dangerous Side Effects for Women

Surprising but true: Many of the medicines we all take -- common treatments like Ambien and everyday aspirin -- were only ever tested on men. And the unknown side effects for women can be dangerous, even deadly. Alyson McGregor studies the differences between male and female patients' bodies; in this fascinating talk she explains how the male patient became a blank slate for medical research ... and what all of us, women and men, need to ask our doctors to get the right care.

 See her TED Talk.

The Women's Court Initiative

Over the course of the past few years there have been some very exciting developments for women in the Balkans and as such, for women everywhere. The Women in Black led the Women's Court Initiative to support women in redefining and achieving justice for their war experiences and creating testimony of some of the women. There was a great deal of effort in creating services leading up to the testimony as this is a very dangerous thing for the women to do and the women needed a great deal of preparation and protection. Without protection their lives were in danger. This was begun by providing leadership development trainings in 7 countries to prepare 45 women witnesses and prosecutors  to testify about their experiences during and after the war. The women were also provided Self Care for the severe symptoms they still suffer from the rape and torture.  In 2011 alone about 200 women's groups organized over 100 events mobilizing 2,000 women participants in cities throughout the Balkans -- the goal being to raise awareness of the Women's Court. 

Read more ...

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