How lack of potable water triggered cholera deaths in Benue communities

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John Charles

Two communities in two council areas of Benue State; Obagaji and Abinsi in the Agatu and Guma Local Government Areas respectively recorded cholera cases. About 26 people have died and 100 treated.

The state Commissioner for Health and Human Services, Dr Joseph Ngbea, said 14 deaths were recorded in Agatu while 12 died in Guma.

Our correspondent who visited the affected community in the Guma Local Government Area of the state learnt that in Abinsi the disease was caused by the source of water the residents use for domestic purposes.

It was gathered that River Benue is the only water source for the people of Kabawa community at Abinsi.

Geographically, Benue River is said to be a major tributary of the Niger River which is about 1,400 km long. It flows through some communities and one of the places the river flows through is Abinsi.

In Abinsi, there is a settlement called Kabawa I and II which is predominantly occupied by the Hausas.

The Kabawa residents with a population of about 2,000 claimed that the communities have no access to potable water except water from the river which they used for domestic purposes.

Ironically, some of the houses in the locality were said to lack latrine, hence, the river also serves as a toilet where they defecate and wash clothes and other filthy things.

Useni Saliu is one of survivors of cholera in the area. He said that his plight started with stomach pain.

Saliu said, “It was on a Thursday evening around 7pm on January 7 that I noticed my stomach was aching. I was with some people that evening. I thought it was a mere stomach pain and I remember that I didn’t take anything except pap in the morning.

“I initially thought that it was hunger but the pain continued as if I took poisonous food. I could no longer control it at a stage and I started vomiting and frequently passing watery stool. It was later that I was rushed to the Primary Health Care where I was admitted for two days before I recovered.’’

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Also talking about what his nine-year-old daughter experienced, Yusuf Sanni said that Zainab ate the same food other family members took before she started complaining of stomach pain and later vomited.

Sanni said, “It was her mother that cooked the food we all ate that day. Then after sometime she complained of stomach pain and shortly later, she vomited and we rushed her to the hospital for treatment. She spent two days there.’’

He stated that he had spent the money he had in taking care of his daughter, calling on the government to help him fix his car so he could continue his work as a driver.

He added, “I am a driver and my vehicle was at a mechanic workshop when my daughter was down with cholera. I spent N12,000 for her treatment and now I don’t have work to do. I will be grateful if the government or anyone can assist me return to work.’’

To 30-year-old housewife, Hafsat Yusuf, it was harrowing for her to spend almost one week in the hospital.

Yusuf said, “Some symptoms associated with cholera such as vomiting and stooling have gone but I still experience stomach pain.”

Hafsat said though she had been advised not to use water from River Benue for domestic purposes, she couldn’t stop using it as there was no alternative. She stated, “We have been advised to stop using water from River Benue for domestic purposes. We were told to use borehole water instead. But I still use water from the river to cook and drink. I try to boil it before drinking it.’’

A leader in the Kabawa community, Alhaji Garuba Yakubu, who spoke to our correspondent, described the case of cholera in the council areas as a deadly blow to his people.

He said, “The disease suddenly occurred in our community and before you know it, it killed 12 people mostly children and some adults.’’

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Yakubu stated that he didn’t know what was responsible for cholera cases in the area, adding “I don’t know whether cholera in the community was caused by the water we drink but the truth is that we don’t have a good source of water. We only drink water from River Benue.’’

He further said the government had advised residents of the Kabawa community to stop drinking water from River Benue. He noted, “They said we should stop using water from the river and find borehole water to use instead.’’

The community leader appealed to the government to drill boreholes for the community to forestall a repeat of cholera in Kabawa.

He stated, “We don’t have any other source of water for use. We don’t even have boreholes that they advised us to drink water from. We are appealing to the government to come to our aid and provide at least three boreholes for our community.’’

Speaking on the development, the health official in charge of the PHC, Abinsi, Janet Adzua, said about 69 patients were treated in the past two weeks for cholera in the area.

She stated, “We didn’t record any casualty at this centre because immediately there was cholera in the community, we alerted the authorities and they responded swiftly. For instance, the government brought drugs, the Commissioner for Health and head of the primary health care board immediately visited the centre. On January 20, the government sent six new beds to add to available ones. The government’s prompt response helped to arrest the situation. That was why we didn’t record any casualties.’’

Adzua, who also decried the water problem in Kabawa, appealed to the government and well-meaning individuals to help the community by drilling boreholes for them.

On his part, the Chief Medical Director, Vyonku Clinic and Maternity, Dr Jibaniya Vyonku, said that three of the cholera patients died in the hospital while 25 were treated.

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He stated that the patients exhibited similar symptoms such as vomiting and stooling, body hotness and loss of appetite.

Vyonku noted that with the number of people said to have died including three lives lost in his clinic, many were likely to have died for lack of medical attention.

He advised people to always promptly seek medical attention to any ailments.

The state Commissioner for Health and Human Services, Dr Joseph Ngbea, however said there had been no new cases of cholera in Agatu and Guma council areas after the death of 14 and 12 people in the two LGAs respectively.

Ngbea said, “I was at Abinsi in the Guma council area where we gave them six beds. When we got there, there was only one case treated and discharged. Over 30 cases were treated at Abinsi and 12 people died, while in Agatu, over 35 persons were treated and 14 people died.

“For now, no more fatalities due to government’s intervention. We supplied drugs twice to Abinsi and Agatu. The action aids and NCDC have given us consignments and they have gone to Abinsi. Also, UNICEF was at Agatu.’’

On lack of boreholes in the community, Ngbea, said that the World Health Organisation was drilling a borehole in the area.

He added, “The WHO is already drilling a borehole for people in the Kabawa community. It is not that they don’t have boreholes but they are not functional. Government has decided to activate the boreholes and drill more for them. As from next week, we are going to be supplying water to them until we reactivate the non-functional ones and we will commence work on drilling more boreholes for the community.’’

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