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December 12, 2018

Why Youth Unemployment can also be Inflammatory

Inflammation is a critical part of the body’s immune response whenever there is an infection or injury.
Inflammation is a critical part of the body’s immune response whenever there is an infection or injury.

We live in a society where whenever an incident that is unexpected occurs, there is abundant hot air generated, followed often by some activity that does not accomplish much by way of enlightening everyone.

It often appears that the segments of society that thrive on drama want to turn everything into a spectacle trumping those who desire to gain knowledge and understand why things are the way they are and therefore improve. In the end society is left a little poorer for lack of knowledge and wisdom on how we can make things better.

This collective desire to be mediocre while at the same time each individual pursues excellence can sound contradictory but is a result of the unintended consequences of any system. A good example of such an unintended consequence is unemployment levels in Kenya.

 Three out of every four persons in Kenya is under the age of 30 and so can be classified as youth. About half the youth are employed, a third are full-time students, the rest unemployed. However of those employed over 80 per cent are in the informal sector, jobs that by definition cannot be considered to be full-time secure jobs.

When you add up these proportions a substantial number of young people are at any one time doing absolutely nothing. You see it if you drive around the country groups of young men bunched around at every point where road traffic slows down, a junction, a rumble strip even a big pothole.

What they are waiting for is for something to happen, anything! At which point they know there will be some action. The problem for all of us, is figuring out what action will happen. Ideally, young men should be schooled, strong with a sense of civic duty. Whether something positive happens really depends on the kind of triggers that they respond to, which sadly are known, especially by our leaders. It is similar to what happens in the body during an inflammatory response.

 Inflammation is a critical part of the body’s immune response whenever there is an infection or injury. It enables the body to maintain homeostasis when it is under attack. The inflamed area temporarily has reduced function, while allowing the rest of the body to continue functioning.

For example, when a person has a small boil, the area becomes inflamed, hot to touch and painful but the infection becomes limited to that area. There are several steps in the inflammatory process. The first is the local response at the site of injury or infection. Any cells that are injured release inflammatory signalling molecules called bradykinin that attract white blood cells to the site.

The white blood cells arriving at the site will eat anything they find such as bacteria that are foreign. In the process of doing so the white blood cells release further inflammatory molecules other kinins that attract more white blood cells and cause release of compounds like histamine. Histamine contributes to the rapid diapedesis of inflammatory cells, which might sound like a Luo talking, but simply means the blood vessels become more porous so white blood cells migrate through intact blood vessel walls into the surrounding damage body tissue. At this point if the infection is a small one the response remains local, we feel some pain and after a few days the inflammation will resolve and we heal.

The problem occurs if there is repeated stimulation of this process leading to a chronic state such as arthritis where the inflammatory response is the one damaging the body tissue. In the case of arthritis the joints become swollen, and painful on movement even though there is no external stimulant. Scientists for generations wondered why this should be the case, why the body should through local action appear to be destroying itself.   

It is now known that once an infection is over, there remains behind some molecules called ‘pattern recognition receptors’ (PPR) that can be activated even when the bacteria or source of infection is not there. As a result inflammation can occur but there is no bacteria on site. All it takes is for a little misinformation to occur by the PPRs and the body swings into action releasing the white blood cells to fight - nothing. 

 You can imagine that in a poor country like ours, with lots of disease, many people will be exposed to various bacteria and viruses. Dealing with such disease requires an immune system that belongs to a nutritionally and mentally healthy person. If the body is full of circulating PPRs looking to incite action then it behaves much like our society where people gather around any incident looking for action. Given the demographic and socio-economic composition of our country, these idle people often do not settle for a polite discussion and without intending to cause much destruction. The problem eventually is that chronic inflammation has no cure and the damage caused becomes very expensive to treat.

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