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Ruga: How community is recovering from strange eye illness Over 20 children on watch list.

THE Ruga community is a settlement near City Gate in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. The inhabitants fall into the category of people referred to by sociologists as the urban poor. They are so close to the capital city of Nigeria yet they lack basic needs of life. To them they are victims of government neglect and insensitivity as no government presence is visible in the whole community.

The environment is filthy and smelly. The buildings are mostly shacks, having dark water streaming from the narrow passages that separate one shack from the other. According to Sunday Tribune investigations, that is exactly where the eye disease stems from. Unfortunately, the victims of this eye disease are underage children between ages of two and six.

Initially the community was stunned as the disease emerged and began to affect one child after the other. This is because since the past 40 years of Ruga's existence as a community, such an outbreak of disease had never occurred.

According to residents, the disease normally begins with itching of the eyes which often goes with little or no attention, with the victim thinking it is a simple case of conjunctivitis or what is popularly known as Apollo. A little while later, the eyes may begin to swell. Very soon, the swollen eyelids would tighten up and the victims would be unable to open their eyes. As of today, more than 20 children are said to have contracted the eye infection right now.

Narrating her ordeal, one of the mothers of the affected children, Mrs. Baratu Ibrahim, who has been living in the community with her husband for more than five years, said she woke up one day only to find her one-year-old son, Mohammed, with a discharge from his right eye. She quickly sent a neighbour to buy her a packet of eye drops from a nearby patent medicine store which she administered on him.

The following day, Mohammed's eye got swollen excessively and she had to stop further application of the eye drop on him, discarding it totally. Desperate to do something that would bring relief to her son, especially because his condition was getting worse by the day, she switched to another procedure which was to dissolve a quantity of salt into hot water and using a piece of cloth to clean the eye when the water gets warm. Not only did her efforts fail, her son's eyes became completely shut and the boy could not see again.

Speaking with Sunday Tribune on the development, the Chief of Ruga Community, Malam Adamu Amodu who has been living in the community for over 20 years said such disease had never been experienced in the community.

'We lack social amenities, no secure environment; we are prone to diseases and other ailments. You can see the environment by yourself. Although, the Federal Capital Territory (FCTA) intervened promptly when the incident happened because there was a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Vaccine Network, who came to our rescue before government sent a team of specialists to us here. The problem has reduced drastically now. Government should help those children who need surgery,' Amodu pleaded.

A teacher at Ruga Community Education Center, the only school in the area, Mr. Mich Okoro, said he was perturbed by the condition of children in the area, hence, the need to set up the school about two years ago when he discovered that virtually all the children in the community have turned to hawkers.

'This is my second year and I started under the tree, but when the burden became so much with rain and sun disturbing us, we moved to this place with the help of one NGO - Vaccine Network. What we are giving them is quality basic education, so if they start attending primary and secondary schools, they will know their right hand from their left.

'Many of them could not write or speak (English) before, but today they can speak and write numerically from figure one to one hundred or one thousand. They can read now. There was no assistance initially, but later an NGO came in and gave us a roof over our head.

'Children were hawking before and I see that there is a need to give them basic education because they were selling groundnuts and other things during school hours. So, that touched my heart and I then discussed with my wife. We are doing this so that the children can contribute their own quota to the society in future,' he stressed.

On how children in the community contracted the eye infection, Okoro said it took some close observations before the disease was discovered as the eyes of the children were always red.

'It was through one of the children, we didn't know because their eyes are always reddish and (later we saw that) something came out from their eyes and when the NGO came they told us that it is a general problem because it was not happening to only one child.

'They took two of them to the clinic where it was confirmed that they had eye problems. Three have gone blind totally. Generally, the number of affected children is more than 20.' he affirmed.

Okoro then urged the government to come to the aid of Ruga residents so that they could lead a normal life and as responsible citizens of the nation and also contribute their own quota to community development.

'If you desert a community like this, there may be a problem to even the larger community and the city in the nearest future. They need something to make them live like normal human beings and not animals.

'Although, the government sent a team of eye specialists, and kudos to the NGO which forced the government to know that some Nigerians are living here. They have a recognised Chief here. Even if the community is not a permanent site, they need something good pending the time they will be relocated to wherever the government wants them to be.' he stated.

Okoro called for the establishment of a mobile medical centre, as this would go a long way in changing the lifestyle of the people of Ruga and other communities like where basic social amenities are completely lacking.

Another resident and Assistant Secretary of the community association, Amale Bartholomew, who has been residing in Ruga for the past 10 years, said lack of access to potable water is a contributory factor to the health problems facing the community.

He lamented that the poor environment and the source of where residents, especially children, had been getting water from might be the remote cause of the indecent.

'There is no centralised borehole provided by the government; the only one we have here was done by an individual and it is for business purposes. The only source of water for the community is the stream by the railway line which both residents and animals are drinking from.

'The cattle herdsmen are rearing around there, that is the basic challenge, There is no clinic and if there is any emergency in the night, we don't know where to run to. (Even) if we (decide to) run to Kuchingoro or Gwarinpa, there is no transportation to move out of this community in the night; so things are so difficult.

'Government should get a mobile clinic that we can run to at night; our women are using traditional birth attendants if they want to have their children. We don't have professional hands around that will take care of issues like this and sometimes we record mortality during the labour because the traditional attendants do not have the knowledge to handle issues when they become complicated,' he lamented.

Though the eye disease affecting the children of Ruga community seems to have been contained, only a sustained improvement on the existing social amenities in the community could stave off the problem permanently, and even protect adults from contracting it.
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Publication:Nigerian Tribune (Oyo State, Nigeria)
Date:Nov 11, 2018
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