…After bedside neighbour died of yellow fever
TIMOTHY OLANREWAJU, Maiduguri
Isah Mohammed, a victim of Boko Haram bloodletting in Borno State has proved to be the proverbial cat with nine lives. Forced out of his home in Baga, a commercial town around the Lake Chad region in the northern part of the state by Boko Haram, Mohammaed fled to nearby Monguno town. Hardly had he found shelter at Monguno when the insurgents came again.
The 41-year-old trader was lucky as he escaped death again, and trekked from Baga with other people and eventually got to Maiduguri.
“I was glad I made it to Maiduguri though under very difficult circumstances,” he told Sunday Sun at one of the IDPs camp in the city. He said he would never forget how he found his way through the bush for two days to get to the city.
Thousands of persons displaced by the insurgency were moved to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps created by the government to provide refuge for victims of the violence. When he got to Maiduguri, he naturally felt that the end of his troubles had come as Maiduguri, though the birthplace of Boko Haram, was considered relatively safe. But weeks later, his joy became short-lived as his resolve to live despite the threats of Boko Haram in the past was threatened.
The reason: various health challenges started manifesting among many of the IDPs. Malaria, typhoid, measles and diarrhea became common ailments in the camp.
Third threat to survival
Like most of the IDPs in the camp, Mohammed fell sick. It was the third threat to his life and survival, he said, recalling the experience this way: “Initially I thought it was malaria. I was taking some local herbs but the illness did not go. So I was advised to go to the hospital. When I went to Umaru Shehu General Hospital, I was told that I had yellow fever. I learnt that the sickness can cause death if not treated in time or if it was severe.”
“Why me again?” he had asked rhetorically, after remembering how he survived Boko Haram gunshots twice by sheer luck and divine intervention. His fear was aggravated as another victim of yellow fever gave up the ghost a day after his admission at the hospital.
“I couldn’t hold it, I was scared I could die also. So I ran away from the hospital,” he said. When asked why he chose to abandon his treatment knowing full well the disease is life-threatening; his answer was shocking: “People will say I fled from Boko Haram at Baga and Monguno only to be killed by yellow fever. Do you want me to stay there after the next person to me on the bed with same ailment died? Do you want me to die same way after escaping death twice in my town and at Monguno?”
He said he resorted to treating his ailment with local herbs until health workers forced him to receive medication. “That was when I began to regain my strength and came back alive again,” he said, though fearing he still carries the disease.
However, he said he was ready to be an ambassador of immunization against yellow fever having seen a victim that succumbed to the disease near his hospital bed.
The deadly disease
Yellow fever is a deadly serious infectious disease that causes fever, dizziness, headache and loss of appetite. A National Surveillance and Accelerated Disease Control officer with the World Health Organization (WHO), Maiduguri office, Dr Terna Nomhwange, told Sunday Sun that other IDPs and residents suffering from yellow fever have nothing to fear as government and international organizations have provided vaccines to prevent its outbreak.
“The government of Nigeria supported by WHO and other partners, has put in place plans to ensure that we have preventive mass vaccination campaign across the country to ensure that we protect and prevent further spread as well. We are targeting people from nine months to 45 years to ensure that these persons get the yellow fever vaccination,” he stated.
He said the vaccine is given only once in one’s life time as it provides life-long protection against the disease. Bearing in mind the experience of Mohammed and other IDPs, one wondered whether he had ever taken the vaccination especially as people in the area have a tendency to reject such medical exercise.
Contrary to this assumption, Nomhwange expressed satisfaction with the response of the IDPs to vaccination: “They are responding very well, participation is very impressive.”
Nomhwange’s response prompted Sunday Sun to visit a few IDP camps including Bakassi and Gubio camps in Maiduguri and Farira camp at the outskirts of the city. There are about 15 officially recognized IDPs camps in Maiduguri, the state capital. The camps were established by the government through emergency agencies and other humanitarian bodies. In most of these camps, health workers were seen vaccinating children and adults of about 45 years while some monitoring teams from WHO, UNICEF and other development partners were going round to assess the exercise.
Fatima Mohammed, a health worker at Teachers’ Village IDP camp described the response of the IDPs as impressive. She said some women who earlier declined to take the vaccine due to absence of incentives later came to be immunized even without gifts. “Many of them said they heard the disease is bad and can kill easily. So they’ve been rushing here for the vaccination,” she told Sunday Sun.
WHO Emergency Communication Officer, Dr Chima Onukwe, Maiduguri office, said the organization trained over 3,000 volunteers, supervisors, monitors, health workers and community leaders to ensure the success of the vaccination exercise.
“Over 1.2 million IDPs are targeted for the immunization against yellow fever,” Onukwe disclosed, stating that the people were reassured that it does not cause harm or affect fertility as had been wrongly believed by the people. He commended the many community leaders that volunteered and mobilized members of their communities and encouraged them to come out for the vaccination. The exercise which started on February 5 ended on Wednesday, Valentine’s Day.