ω Several women living with VVF
When on December 17, 1917, Lord Fredrick Lugard, one of the then colonial masters set up Kaduna city, the capital of Northern Nigeria, he rightly envisaged that it has the potential to become a mega city due to its strategic geographical position. To prove right his foresight, the city has since then remained the political melting pot of Northern Nigeria.
At about the same time, a community known as Keffin-Gwari Wutere was also created with the hope of making it grow together with Kaduna city – by way of tapping from the city’s basic amenities especially health facilities. Unfortunately, 100 years later, that lofty dream is yet to be realized. This fact constituted the kernel of disappointment expressed by the Mai Ungwa, Danjuma Ali, when a team of developmental journalists visited the community last week Friday.
The sore of Kaduna
Located on the Kaduna-Zaria road, about 10 kilometres away from the city centre, Keffin Gwari Wutere serves as centre for other communities which include Keffin-ganyi, Korakora, Kabobo, Rahama, Tami and Sauran-giwa, all agrarian communities living in their own world where the fate of pregnant women and infants are unknown because living here depends on survival of the fittest. Facts garnered from the locals show that despite its closeness to Kaduna, Wutere and adjoining communities contribute 814 of every 100,000 women that die during childbirth.
What this means is that each pregnancy in this area comes with mixed feelings. This is because there are no primary healthcare delivery facilities, no clinic, not even patent medicine store or skilled traditional birth attendant. Child-bearing processes begin and end here with trial-and-error methods applied by old women.
This development has led to death of several newborn babies and to other children being exposed to diseases. Till this day, many child-bearing aged mothers suffer vesico vaginal fistula (VVF), a medical condition that make women leak urine uncontrollably from an opening on their private parts due to prolonged labour.
Lamentations of a community leader
Narrating the ordeals his subjects are going through as a result of absence of medical facilities, Mai Ungwan Danjuma Ali decries poor presence of government in the area over the past decades, despite several attempts made to get help. The 55-year-old community leader and husband of one wife and father of five children, regrets that all efforts made to attract government intervention to his community have remained a mirage. Today, he wonders if they are part of Kaduna State. “We have been here for about 100 years,” he informed the visiting newsmen. “I am 55 now and I was born here. We are mainly peasant farmers because we don’t have tractors close to us even if it means to rent. If you raise your head from here, you will see Kaduna-Zaria highway which means we are not far from Kaduna itself. Based on this closeness, by now, about 100 years after, one would have expected to see a number of things on ground that will show the presence of government.
“As you must have noticed on your way to this place, we don’t have cars; in fact, nobody has a car in this community, because where is the road on which to drive that? We only have a few motorcycles which we use in carrying our women to the express road by Rigachikun before we can get a car that will take them to Kawo General Hospital. This distance and transportation challenge makes it difficult for many women to attend antenatal care during pregnancy. So, any pregnant woman that runs into labour at night is at a great risk of losing her baby or her life, if complications arise.
“Women in the village find it extremely challenging visiting hospital for antenatal care or childbirth. We rely solely on old women acting as traditional midwives to help take care of deliveries. They are not trained but that is the only alternative especially if it is happening at night. As I speak to you, we have identified 20 of our women suffering from VVF, a poor condition we were told is caused by prolong labour. If there had been a clinic no matter how small and we have trained health workers there, many of the women would have been referred to other facilities in town early enough.”
Confirmations by female members of Wutere
Narrating their personal experiences as a way of buttressing the point that Mai Ungwan Danjuma Ali was making, some women in the community report increasing records of incessant miscarriages owing to lack of good health facilities. One of them, Esther Marcus, a mother of one, laments the lack of access to good health facilities. “We have to go to Kawo for antenatal care and baby delivery,” she informs. “We are lucky that we know how to space out pregnancies, otherwise, we would have been recording deaths of young mothers instead of miscarriages and deaths of newborn babies.
The community lacks everything around health care; no hospital, we don’t even have traditional birth attendants. We are at the mercy of old women with experience in night labour and baby delivery. We don’t have access to drugs because there are no drug shops or patent medicine stores.
“We are lucky not to have recorded loss of any woman during childbirth in recent times. But we have quite a number of newborn babies that died in the course of their delivery owing to lack of prompt medical care. You can imagine what it looks like for a pregnant woman already in labour to walk or ride about four kilometres to Rigachikun sitting on a motorcycle, with pains and all that. Such a woman would rather take the risk and stay back at home and put her trust in God.”
Thirty-five-year-old Jummai Joseph, a survivor of VVF takes her time to share her experience. “Contrary to what we use to hear that most women suffering from VVF are those that got married early or those who don’t space their pregnancies, I got married at the age of 20,” she says. “I had been to labour room five times. And, each of the pregnancy came after two and a half years or three.
However, I experienced prolonged labour which resulted in complications, during my fifth delivery. I was rushed to a public hospital in Kawo, in Kaduna North Local Government Area for medical attention. Because of the stress I went through during the labour period, I gave birth to a stillborn, after the surgery.
“Thereafter, I came back home. But I never knew that the prolonged labour I experienced had led to VVF until after some days. All of a sudden, I discovered that urine was coming out of my body on its own. I was taken back to the General Hospital in Kawo where tests confirmed that I had developed VVF. From there, I was referred to a VVF centre at Hajia Gambo Sawaba Hospital in Zaria for treatments. Since I became a victim of VVF, my life has not been the same. I gave birth to four children without complications. But it was the fifth pregnancy that led to this and I still lost the baby during delivery. As if that was not enough, I spent a lot of money on the treatment.”
Other indices of underdevelopment
Apart from provision of primary care health facilities, the community suffers from underdevelopment in many areas. On the area of education, the only primary school situated at the entrance of the community is nothing to write home about. It was last retouched in 2003 by TETFund. Right now, one of the two blocks has no roof over it, making it possible for weed to take it over. There is no furniture in the second block to help the pupils learn properly.
Policy Advocacy Campaigns and Communications Manager, Actionaid Nigeria, Tunde Aremu, avows that people living in abject poverty, such as members of Keffin-Gwari Wutere community are experiencing at the moment, often need to be supported to discover their own power, get organised and connect with movements to publicly demand their rights from local institutions, federal governments and powerful corporate bodies.
“Actionaid believed that poverty and injustice can be eradicated only when the poor and the excluded are able to take charge of their lives and act to claim their rights,” he reiterates. “We believe that an end to poverty and injustice can be achieved through purposeful individual and collective action, led by the active agency of people living in poverty and supported by solidarity, credible rights-based alternatives and campaigns that address the structural causes and consequences of poverty.”