By; MOHAMMAD IBRAHIM, Kaduna.
Apprehension is rife in Kaduna State Northwest part of Nigeria following outbreak of fresh cases of River blindness in local communities of the state, particularly in the southern part.
Reports from the areas showed that many people within the affected communities have already gone blind while hundreds are suffering from eye infections that may lead to blindness.
Facts gathered at Department of health, Kajuru Local Government Area Secretariat indicated that 14 districts were affected by river blindness in the Local government area alone.
The affected districts are Maro ward I district, Maro District, Idon ward II districts Idon, and Iri districts, Tantatu ward I district Tantatu. Afogoh ward I Afogoh district, Kufana ward II Kufana and Angwan Aku districts.
Others are Rimau ward I Rimau district, Kalla ward I Kalla district, Kajuru ward IV districts, Kyamara, Dawaki, Buda and districts, Kasuwan Magani ward I Dustsen Gaiya district, Others include Ungwan Makama village in Robo and Angwan Fada and Angwan Aku in Fadama kuroro districts.
All these districts are within Iri districts axis which is one of the areas with high prevalent cases of river blindness in the local government.
This discovery followed a month investigation carried out by a team of five investigative journalists which our Correspondent is a member in the villages affected.
The team discovered that River Iri which served as a source of water to the communities within Iri Station and Makoro Districts was said to be the breeding place for tsetse flies which caused river blindness within Iri village.
According to findings, the villagers got bitten by tsetse flies whenever they go to the river to fetch water and the flies carry a worm that caused blindness to those bitten.
Lack of access to clean water has always being the problem of the communities around Iri with population of over 100 thousand.
Findings further revelled that villagers using water from river Iri are from Hayin Sarki, Sabon Gida, Inkirmi, Karmai, Makoro, Gadan Malam Mamman among others.
Residents of Hayin Sarki a village across River Iri bridge built by World Bank still fetch water for domestic and other uses from the river known for spreading the tsetse flies despite the risk involved.
The villagers claimed they have no access to clean, potable water, so they still go to the river to fetch water while leaders within the community expressed fear because the flies still breed around the riverside.
An Elderly woman, Yawo Yuguda and mother of two children explained how she became blind years back.
“I got blind years back and till date nobody tell me the reason for my blindness. I even went to Kafanchan hospital for treatment they couldn’t explain to me the main reason for the blindness, so I took it as my destiny,” she said.
Alisabaltu Zankwa is another blind woman within Iri village who said she got blind 30 years back.
“Well, when people started going blind in the village nobody came to explain the reason behind it, we were only left to go looking for help. Mine started like a joke with itching before I later lost my sight completely,” she said.
60 year old Abdulmumini Ali said his eye problem started 3 years ago. “I started having this eye problem three years ago, it started with itching, sometimes I feel as if I’m being bitten inside.
“Although some people from the city do visit us to distribute drugs to us. They told us that the drugs will help protect us.
“My elder brother already lost his sight and the problem is the same. It all started last three years. We know something was wrong in the village but we don’t know what it is” he said.
Village Head of Hausa Community in the village 65 year old Malam Garba lost complete sight of his left eye.
“I can’t see with my left eye as I talked to you now and this problem just started last year. I don’t know the cause but it began with inching, now the right eye too is having problem which is making me worried because it seems soon I will lose my sight completely.”
On whether they have received help from the government about this he said “the last time I could remember some people came and fumigated river Iri was in the 70s. Because they said the problem was the river. We were told that there were tsetse flies in the riverside,” he said.
Paul Sanda a retired Soldier said he returned to the village with his family 3 years ago and soon started losing his sight.
“When I was in the city my eyes were fine but since I returned home after my retirement my eyes started having problems. That was in 2003. I visited National Eye centre where I was operated upon but still I’m not seeing clearly,” he said.
80 year old Doma Obandoma said he lost his sight completely in 2012. ” The problem is some of us don’t go to hospital because we are poor and we don’t know the real cause of the blindness in the community but people said it’s has to do with the river, We just need help,” he said.
65 year old Alex Danladi said hers began pains 5 years ago. ” It began with itching before I went to hospital once and they gave me drugs but still the pains and itching still continues. My daughter too, 18 year old have started complaining about same eye itching last year.
“The truth is before we moved from city to village we never had this symptoms. So, we were all worried because we don’t know the cause,” she said.
District Head of Iri Peter -A-Magaji who was caught unaware by the investigative journalists expressed worry over the re-emergence of the flies in the area.
“Well, your visit made us to realize the gravity of the issue. My people came out in their numbers to explain that they are going blind and we suspected river Iri.
“The river was fumigated years back which helped killed the flies but now I heard that the flies are resurfacing which means something urgent need to be done.
“We are appealing to government to help provide us with boreholes in Iri Station district because River Iri is the only source of water for this village and those around us. The river sometimes get dried oup but people still go there to dig in search of water.
“I’m afraid that people from Hayin Sarki and negbouring villages still fetch water from the dried river despite the risk involved. I think if the local government can provide us with a borehole it will go a long way in addressing the water problem,” he said.
The District Head also appealed to government for a frequent fumigation of the river to control the flies.
According to him, there are different tribes living in the community such as Adara, Fulani, Hausa and Igbo in their thousands.
“Farming is what we do for a living. River Makoro is another River at another district that produce such flies. We need help from government to free us from these flies that are sending our people blind,” he said.
Our team also discovered that government need to wake up to its responsibility in terms of provision of health care service delivery in the state because as it’s now, only Sight Savers; an NGO that is providing mectizan to victims of river blindness in the state.
According to budget document of Kaduna State, Sight Savers spends over 11 million naira annually for provision of mectizan and other services in the State.
This implies that if the NGO decides to withdraw its intervention, the situation will be disastrous for the villagers and the state.
Programme Officer of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) at the Health Department of Kajuru Local Government Area, Mr. Francis Habakuk said last year, in November that they received a delegation of some visitors from United States in collaboration with NPHCDA in Abuja.
He said Communities visited by the Team included Rafin Kunu and Angwan Fada all under Kajuru but Iri not included. They were led here by our Coordinator, Neglected Tropical Diseases, (NTD) Kaduna State.
“We ask the community members to report cases of river blindness to us, but they don’t report to us. They just sit at home.
“Since I assume office in the last five years, it’s only old cases of river blindness that we have on record, except for the one new case M&E reported in Agwala in Afogoh district – Afogoh,” he said.
As it is now, hundreds are going blind in the area. This is because the communities are neglected. There is a great yawning gap that need to be filled between government and people in rural areas.
(Investigation) River Blindness: Hundreds going blind in Kaduna communities
By; MOHAMMAD IBRAHIM, Kaduna.