“Will I ever see my children again? It has been over one year yet it seems as if it was yesterday,” Malam Mustapha Madaro, a farmer in Kaura Namoda, Zamfara, asked with tears in uncertainty.
Modaro recently narrated his sad experience on Cerebrospinal Meningitis outbreak that killed his five children.
He continued: “I lost five of my children to Cerebrospinal Meningitis in 2017 and life has never been the same since then.
“It was largely my fault and living with this guilt everyday kills me slowly because I feel I didn’t do enough.
“It started with high temperature, Halima and Zainab came home from Islamic school complaining of pains and headache so their mother gave them concoction prepared by a traditional doctor.
“The concoction didn’t work so my wife Amina called me on the phone and told me about the children’s health that it was getting worse, so I asked her to give them malaria drugs.
“She went and bought the malaria drugs and gave them as I instructed but it didn’t work either, rather it became worse and also affected Sumaila, Ahmed and Fatimah
“At night when the children’s condition got worse`, we looked for a vehicle and took them to the hospital but Sumaila died on the way.
“Getting to the hospital, the healthcare providers started treatment immediately and they did their best but it was too late, Halima, Zainab, and Ahmed died before morning while Fatimah died before the next day.
“I bought all the drugs prescribed by the health worker but they did not have the Cerebrospinal Meningitis vaccine in the facility at that time.
“I never thought a thing like that would happen to my family but we give thanks to God in all situation, although our lives have never been the same since the incident, we learned our lessons the hard way.
“If I had enough information I would have protected my family better and if my wife was educated she would have taken the children to the hospital on time instead of herbal doctor.
“If I paid more attention other than feeling it was common malaria, maybe they would have been here today and if the hospital had the vaccine on time may be all my children wouldn’t have died’’.
Madaro called on the government to improve the health facility in the community and not to wait for outbreaks before acting.
He noted that if effective steps were taken on time the situation could be salvaged.
However, Malam Mayana Abubakar, from Talata Mafara in Zamfara, who worked at the local government, said that his two children survived Cerebrospinal Meningitis as a result of the prompt treatment they received at the healthcare centre.
Abubakar explained that initially when the children fell ill, he quickly treated them for malaria but when it persisted, he rushed them to the hospital and after the treatment, they got better.
“Both of them fell sick simultaneously, I got confused but I treated malaria when it persists, I rushed them to the hospital.
“As soon as we got to the hospital, the health workers commenced treatment immediately and they admitted for few days after which they got better and were discharged. Both of them have returned to school.
“It was the quick response of the health workers that saved my children and am thankful to the government for their swift support in saving our community,’’ he said.
In another development, Mrs Halima Yusufu, a housewife from Talata Mafara in Zamfara, blamed her religious sentiments for the loss of her three children to Cerebrospinal Meningitis.
Yusufu said that she was not allowed to go out or speak to anyone who is not a family member without the permission of her husband, which she said was in accordance with the religion.
“I am married to a religious teacher and he was based in Abuja and I don’t go out, speak freely or socialise with everybody. My husband only comes home most weekends.
“On that faithful, my children were playing in front of the house when Mohammed who is nine years old came to me complaining of fever, headache, and vomiting, I took him inside and gave him herbal medicines.
“I tried to calm the fever down when the sister Fatimah started complaining of similar pains, I got confused and called my husband on the phone so he sent his brother Bashiru Riliwanu who came in the evening with malarial drugs.
“I administer the drug, hoping they will get better but I was wrong because they got worse and at this time Amina was affected too.
“I had to call my husband again and he sent Bashiru back who later looked for a vehicle and took them to the hospital, Muhammad died on the way.
“Getting to the hospital, the health workers confirmed Muhammad dead and started treatment almost immediately on Amina and Fatimah but unfortunately, they died before morning,” she said.
Yusufu noted that if not for some restrictions, she would have taken her children to the hospital on time and would not wait for my husband’s instructions to save their lives because we wasted a lot of time.
“Other people who survived spoke about running to the health facility on time, my husband does not even know that the children were all dead and he has not visited since then,” she said.
Ms Aisha Kabiru, a survivor of Cerebrospinal Meningitis, said that when she complained of headaches, neck stiffness, and body pain, her mother first treated her with herbal medicine.
Kabiru noted that the herbal treatment did not work and when it persisted, she was rushed to the hospital.
“I was scared thinking that I would die, but the doctors did their best, as soon as they started treatment, I started getting better, my mother didn’t spend much money because the treatment was free,” she said.
Warning the public against ignorance, Mr Yusuf Marafa, the Executive Secretary of State Primary Health Care Management Board in Zamfara, said that the state government was ready to combat any future outbreak of Cerebrospinal Meningitis.
Marafa made the promise in Gusau during a visit by officials of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to Cerebrospinal Meningitis most affected areas in the state.
He said that all health workers had been trained and were fully ready to tackle Cerebrospinal Meningitis recurrence.
“We have learned our lesson and have taken measures because we do not want it to happen again.
“Fortunately, our traditional leaders, religious leaders, and even stakeholders are in support of this because they know and they experienced what happened,’’ he said.
Marafa said the state government was taking steps to combat other vaccine-preventable diseases through routine immunisation.
“We have strengthened our routine immunisation and very, fortunately, we are going to review our basket fund,” he said.
But the Emir of Gusau, Alhaji Ibrahim Bello, identified poverty and illiteracy as major causes of death arising from Cerebrospinal Meningitis.
He said that once there was no sufficient food that would give energy and protection in the body, there would be low resistance and low resistance give room to infection.
He, nonetheless, admitted that initially, the people did not believe that it was a disease that warranted medical attention, they preferred to go to native doctors.
“People were not interested in going to health facilities initially, so we had to convince, educate and enlighten them, then they understood the need for orthodox medicines and started going to health facilities,” he explained.
Prof. Isaac Adewole, the Minister of Health, observed that 1,166 died due to Cerebrospinal Meningitis outbreak in 2016 in the affected areas of Zamfara, Sokoto State, Yobe, Katsina State, Kano State, Kebbi and Niger.
However, the Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, reassured Nigerians of working relentlessly to curb the outbreaks of diseases in the country.
He mentioned some of the efforts to curb diseases in the country as training of officers on Lassa fever outbreak and control also improving and building more laboratories.
“We are improving and building more laboratories for high capacity testing in the country.
“By the end of the training across the country, we hope to have built the high capacity of frontline clinical, laboratory and public health workers on case management, laboratory diagnosis, prevention and control of Lassa fever.
“We are working to improve the knowledge and skills of surveillance officers and healthcare workers for effective response.
“In preparation for the 2018, 2019 CSM outbreak season, NCDC and stakeholders have conducted a National After Action Review Meeting.
“We have reviewed our response during the last outbreak which showed improvement as cases reduced by 76.1 per cent and deaths reduced by 74.0 per cent.
“Strengths and challenges were identified with priority actions identified to plan better for the next outbreak season and we are working with our stakeholders both at the international, national, state levels.
“We are preparing for the African Regional Meeting of countries in the meningitis belt organised by the World Health Organisation,” he said.
In his view, Mr Bashiru Isah, the Community Health Officer, Shagari Primary Health Centre, Birini Ruwa, Gusau, said that the greatest challenge to combat Cerebrospinal Meningitis in the state was the lack doctors and functional primary care centres.
He said that during Cerebrospinal Meningitis outbreak, the workers were overwhelmed by patients’ influx.
All in all, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says it is supporting the Federal Government in its efforts to tackle Cerebrospinal Meningitis outbreak in the country.
The UNICEF, Abuja Communication Specialist Eva Hinds says that the fund, in collaboration with other partners, will closely monitor the situation and provide technical support in the areas of active surveillance and case management.
The first symptoms of Cerebrospinal Meningitis are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.