Sola Ojo, Kaduna
It all started on Friday, October 20, 2017, when Rabiu Ibrahim, 13, was having an abnormal temperature. His parents attempted to put the situation under control by wiping his body with a towel dipped in cold water, but to no avail. Eventually, his father, Ibrahim Aliyu, 45, a commercial motorcycle operator, decided to take his sick son to a nearby medical clinic owned by Al-Ameen College of Health and Technology, Angwan Muazu, Nnamdi Azikiwe bypass, Kaduna.
His choice of the clinic was premised on two reasons: proximity to their house at Kampala West and the conviction that it will be affordable because it is a faith-based health facility.
The boy received a blood transfusion and his treatment was followed by apparent recovery. Then abruptly, he suffered a relapse and remained invalid for the next few weeks. In what has become a long-drawn traumatic saga, the 13-year-old was found to have been infected with HIV and since the past 20 months, his parents and the clinic have been locked in acrimony that has also drawn other associated parties, including several government agencies, into the maelstrom. Yet there is no end in sight to the controversy. Saturday Sun spoke with all the major parties concerned in this case of mysterious transmission of HIV to an innocent boy.
The story according to the victim’s family
The victim’s father, Ibrahim Aliyu, remained unwavering in his belief that his son was not HIV positive before his treatment at the clinic. He narrated to Saturday Sun what transpired when he took his son to the clinic.
“I was asked to pay N3,200 for card and admission bed. They called their [lab] technician, one Abdulhakeem, who diagnosed the boy of typhoid and malaria. I was asked to find a donor who is of the same blood group with my son because mine was not compatible. I brought five persons, none of whom was declared compatible. They said I need to buy blood at the cost of N8, 000. But I could only provide N6, 000 after contacting my brother in Suleja, Niger State. The person that went to get the blood returned without the blood and said someone would bring it.
“Nobody eventually showed up but he [the doctor] came out of his office with a blood bag and asked the nurses to transfuse it. After the transfusion, my boy was admitted for two days. During the time, the doctor dropped a message that I should see him. I went to see him and he told me the child needed more blood. He said since I did not have money, I should go and bring those that could donate blood, otherwise, I’d need to buy blood. Luckily, as I left, I met a relative who offered to be a donor. I took him to the clinic. The busy lab technician ordered his colleague, a lady, to test his blood. At the end of the test, they claimed his blood was not compatible. He asked me to bring N6, 000 instead of N8, 000 to enable him to get a pint of blood.”
Aliyu smelt a rat. “We visited another lab where it was confirmed the blood [of the donor] was O Negative, the exact type we are looking for. We went back to him and he ran the test again, and thereafter, asked us to bring N3, 500. He eventually got the blood from my relative and said he had screened it.”
The blood was transfused and the child discharged two days later.
“But, his condition did not improve as expected. He was still sickly and bed-ridden day after day. When I raised concern, people asked me to be patient that he would get over it,” Aliyu recalled.
Unfortunately, the child remained an invalid for two months. Eventually, the situation reached a tipping point.
“One day, I was called that there was an emergency at home. On rushing home, I saw women trying to bring the child back to life. His body temperature was dangerously high. After much effort, his temperature came down. That night, by 1 am, his situation had worsened. He was so hot that he was fainting. One of my neighbours said we must take him to the hospital. We took him to UNICEF hospital where a test was run on him.”
That was where he was confronted with the shocking truth.
“After the test, the lab technician asked me to follow him to go and see the doctor. It was the doctor who confirmed it to us.”
Aliyu claimed the management of the clinic had earlier accepted responsibility. “When I waited and they were not doing anything, I then petitioned the government,” said he.
“We have written the government twice. But we are yet to hear from them. I took copies of the letters from the Government House and Ministry of Justice to the Police Headquarters. But the Police asked us to channel our complaint to the Federal Ministry of Health which we did. National Human Rights Commission also called us. The ministry also called us. But before the ministry called us, the owner of the hospital had gone there to tell them different things against us.
“I brought the child and they tested him again at Barrau Dikko Specialist Hospital where they also confirmed that my relative was HIV free and was O Negative. They also confirmed that the child was O Positive and not O Negative as earlier claimed by Al-Ameen. The boy’s mother and I were also tested and we were HIV negative.”
A panel constituted by the Ministry of Health had looked into the matter. Aliyu insisted the panel also compared the results from the child’s file and found “a sharp contrast with what we have.”
He said: “From that panel, the owner of Al-Ameen clinic told me to either accept it as the will of God or name my price. I told him I could not take it as the will of God because it was not a mistake but a deliberate act.”
The ministry, he claimed, did not get back to them as promised. “Luckily, a good Samaritan linked us with the permanent secretary. Five days after we met with the permanent secretary, Dr Gajere then told us that they have concluded their investigations and made recommendations.”
The case, however, seemed to have hit a dead end. “Surprisingly, Dr Gajere then told the permanent secretary that the file was missing in his office. Since then, we have not heard anything about it,” Aliyu concluded his story.
The clinic’s counter-story
The management of Al-Ameen College of Health and Technology dismissed the family’s story as fabrications. Yakubu Baiki, the registrar of the institution, asserted that the boy was already infected before he arrived at their clinic for blood transfusion.
“We know the man is confused. We are trying to assist the boy and not him, but he’s behaving funny. When this man came with his sick son, he was diagnosed with malaria. He even absconded with the balance he was supposed to pay. After examining the boy, we discovered that he needed a blood transfusion. The boy was transfused two pints of blood: one from FOMWAN and the other one from a man he presented to us. Only for him to come back about a month after to say we have infected his son with HIV. The boy has been infected before he was brought here,” he said.
Baiki complained: “We have not been using the facility for months. This is a facility that has saved many lives. When we had malaria outbreak in this area, we treated 2,372 patients. After that, there was pressure from the community to go commercial. But, we told them this is a clinic just for our students and staff. We have a senior resident medical laboratory technician here. We are accredited by the Federal Ministry of Health.
He pushed a conspiracy theory: “We know someone is sponsoring him. He has gone as far as the House of Representatives. Maybe, they thought we have money here because for him to be going up and down show that some people are pushing him.”
Currently, the clinic is in limbo. “The Federal Ministry of Health has come to investigate us. We are only trying to be law-abiding as we await the governor to make a pronouncement,” said the embattled registrar.
The FOMWAN angle
The authority of FOMWAN (Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria) Hospital, Kaduna, dealt a blow to the story of Al-Ameen Clinic.
Though, both health institutions interface in their operations, FOMWAN’s secretary, Shehu Umar, claimed Al-Ameen Clinic did not obtain a pint of blood from them during the week in question as claimed by its registrar.
“I am 100 per cent sure that, there is no how blood can leave FOMWAN without being properly screened. We don’t sell blood to the less privileged. We have people who regularly come to donate blood because they know we render charitable hospital services. Just two weeks ago, a woman was in dire need of blood after she gave birth and bled a lot. We gave her two pints of blood, free, even when her husband abandoned her. So, when I heard about the story, it baffled me,” Umar said.
He conceded that the Al-Ameen Clinic normally gets blood supply from FOMWAN. “But this particular incident we are talking about, it was not from here that they got it,” he asserted. “The authority of this facility has done its investigation and that is the finding. They went and check the date of the transfusion in that facility and they have discovered that, even within that week, that facility did not collect any blood here. That was why we have ignored the story. Initially, he even claimed to have gotten the blood from 44 Army Reference Hospital.”
Umar went on: “The truth is, whatever the standard of the facility you are getting blood from, you still have to screen it and that is the standard practice. We have been following the standard practices for about 30 years of existence of this facility and we have never been found wanting of wrong blood results at least, within the past 16 years of my working here. Here, you will see our price list including N2, 000 for blood screening no matter the source.”
Saturday Sun visited the zonal office of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria located at Rigachikun, Igabi Local Government Area, Kaduna State, on Tuesday, July 9. The staff declined to comment on the case. According to them, an existing state monitoring team, which comprised of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), MDCN and State Ministry of Health, is handling the matter.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Dr. Shehu Usman Muhammad, said, though some of the colleges of health in the state were registered with one regulatory body or the other, the ministry was not unaware of some others who were operating illegally across the state saying, the mapping was ongoing, the outcome of which shall be made public.
“The particular case you are asking, we have closed down the clinic to the best of my knowledge. The case is with the Ministry of Justice and they will take the matter to court,” he affirmed.