From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
On May 21, 2013, Favour Okiemute was not so favoured. She gave up the ghost after a three-year battle with tuberculosis. The disease had reduced her to mere vegetable, as efforts by medics to rescue the 25-year old lady from the pangs of death failed.
Prior to contracting the disease in 2010, the graduate of Microbiology from the University of Lagos was the envy of all in her hometown of Sapele, Delta State. After graduation in 2011, Favour had her youth service in Benin City where she was diagnosed of tuberculosis.
The disease affected her drastically. Medical personnel battled to rescue her by applying all known medications and referred her to several centres. But the efforts to save her life did not yield any good result until she passed on.
Favour is not the first patient to have died of the ravaging disease, and would probably not be the last, particularly in rural communities where access to medical facilities is a major challenge in Nigeria. The case of Mercy Ojonogo, a fresh Linguistic graduate from the University of Benin, readily comes to mind.
Narrating how the ailment started, Mercy, who is awaiting mobilisation for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) said: “I was working on some projects and conducting research when I took ill. School wasn’t in session and I wanted to make some extra preparations for the next semester before I discovered the disease. That was in May 2014 when I was in my final year.
“I had been to the Central Hospital, Warri. Then I was referred to one closer to my home. I also went for some private checks to double-check what the government hospitals were saying; just to be sure. In all these movements, the experiences were not interesting.”
She, however, expressed optimism that she would get back to her feet soon. She commended doctors at the Eku Referral Hospital, saying “the workers are committed to their work. They have listening ears and are ready to help out as much as they can.”
John Osioni, a 21-year student of Delta School of Health Technology, Ughelli, discovered he had tuberculosis between 2012 and 2013 when he was in Senior Secondary School III. According to him, it started with coughing and fever, but he was treating malaria.
“We later discovered and started treating the tuberculosis. Where I was receiving treatment, the lady observed that the sickness was not going and, therefore, recommended that I go for tuberculosis test and it was positive. And so, for the past five years, we have been on it.
“Ever since, it has been weighing me down. I have chest pain, back pain and pain in all the joints. Everywhere is hurting me. I have stopped schooling. I deferred the admission because of the pains. We were about to resume Year Two when the thing weighed me down and I couldn’t continue. And so, last year in July, I had to stop school to concentrate on the treatment. And by the grace of God, I am getting better,” he said.
But 40-year old Donald Ebie from Agbarho has more bitter tales. Although he appears hopeless, following his narrative, he seems not to be aware of the situation, surrounding his health. Ebie, who works as an accountant in a finance company, is depending on the grace of God to survive the trauma. He discovered the disease in 2012 and had visited several hospitals both in Delta and Edo States. But respite appears far away from him.
“I have been to Central Hospital, Sapele, twice for treatment. When it couldn’t work, I left for Edo State where I was admitted at Ogan Hospital and I stayed there for almost four months.
“After certifying me okay, I was still coughing but the doctor said I was okay and that they had done all they could for me. I said I was not sure going by the way I was feeling. It was then they referred me to Eku to continue with the treatment.
“My experiences have been terrible. I could not walk a long distance; even to take my bath was a problem for me. I coughed a lot and yellow sputum was coming out of my mouth,” he explained.
He said the doctors at the Eku Referral Centre told him that he had received all the treatment he needed to receive but was only asked to wait for a class of experts to see what could be done for him, as his case was not improving.
Eku, a semi-urban community in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State is host to the state government-owned Tuberculosis and leprosy referral centre. Confirmed cases of the two diseases are referred to the isolated environment for treatment.
However, Mr. Chiedozie Onyeukwu, Executive Director of Krucial Aid Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation, working with foreign donors to alleviate the pains of tuberculosis patients, said as the disease repelled people, so is the road to the centre repellent, nauseating and disgusting.
Mr. Onyeukwu, under whose organisation – the Global Fund – is assisting the tuberculosis patients in the state, said his organisation had battled to ensure that the disease is eradicated from communities in the state.
At a sensitisation workshop in Eku for over 40 drug resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) patients and their treatment supporters, with the aim of treating, preventing and controlling tuberculosis, Onyeukwu explained that the fight had been both successful and challenging.
He said his organisation had experienced certain challenges, which ranged from treatment default and absconding, drug side effects (loss of hearing), treatment failure, while most complicated cases have led to death among patients even after fortunes from donor agencies.
“We have continuously ensured that patients do not stop the treatment before it is completed, allowing the bacteria to mutate and move from the ordinary susceptible stage to the drug resistant stage.
“We have tried to monitor them so that they do not default and go down with more severe tuberculosis which is more difficult to treat, requiring, on the average, two years of medication. We call on Nigerians to join in the fight to eliminate tuberculosis,” Onyeukwu said.
He further explained that Krucial Aid Nigeria, a sub-sub recipient and Health Alive Foundation (HAF), another sub recipient of the Global Fund Round 9 Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) Grant, which assists Nigeria to strengthen multi drug resistance tuberculosis prevention and control in Nigeria, has the objective of promoting behavioural change about tuberculosis in communities and strengthen tuberculosis prevention and control in Nigeria.
Deputy Control Officer of the State Tuberculosis Programme and Medical Director, Tuberculosis and Leprosy Referral Centre, Dr. Alexander Akpodiete, said no fewer than 500,000 people are affected by tuberculosis every year in Nigeria with only 100,000 infected persons finding access to health care facilities.
He said in Delta, there are estimated cases of 15,000 patients per year, noting that only between 2,500 and 3000 are available for treatment annually.
Akpodiete noted that Nigeria ranks 10th among the 22 high burden tuberculosis countries globally, adding that though the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the disease a global emergency, it has remained one of the world’s major cause of ill-health and death.
Senior Programme Officer of Community Medicine Department of the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) Mrs. Meg Ike, said tuberculosis could actually be cured within six months.
She said the poor attitude of Nigerians to health management leads to tuberculosis patients graduating from the initial susceptible stage to the drug resistant stage which might lead to another stage where the disease remains absolutely incurable.