In this report, Odimegwu Onwumere uncovers that diarrhoea and cholera kill over 150,000 yearly in Nigeria, out of which are under-5 children, due to poor access to water supply, which is presently at 69% and sanitation at 29%
Queens College, Lagos, was thrown into a moment of the absurd in February 2017; many of its students were down with stooling and vomiting, a condition that was later said to be diarrhoea and cholera.
Government agents were irked and accused diarrhoea as the major child-killing disease in Nigeria, second to malaria. The students were admitted to hospital. Some survived. Others didn’t.
In a report by Sahara Reporters, March 19, 2017, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, the president-general of Unity Schools’ old students’ association, said, “A recent laboratory report has shown that since the beginning of January 2017, over 1,222 students of Queens College (QC) in Yaba, Lagos State have been treated at the school’s clinic for abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
“Sixteen students have been admitted to various hospitals in the country, with one currently in the intensive care unit of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH).” Parents of the dead school children were stunned, saying that the school authorities didn’t attend to the ordeal with the attention it needed, given that, “diarrhoea is an intestinal tract infection characterised by fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, dehydration and usually caused by bacterial, viral and parasitic organisms in contaminated water and foods.”
According to a parent’s statement to newsmen, “How can a Principal tell parents to disregard what took the lives of two students and also put over 200 students in critical condition as mere rumour? This is a clear case of the spread of an epidemic.” Accusations and blame game traded the cause of the outbreak. Eyewitnesses accused the school authorities of being lackadaisical in preventing the students from drinking water from the school’s apparent contaminated water system.
Accounts by the media relayed the lamentation of another parent, “Since my daughter came home for the break, she has been stooling and vomiting. She was admitted and diagnosed of diarrhoea, however she has been discharged, but she is still taking her medications. I fear for her as I don’t know what her fate will be.”
The school toilets were also fingered as not suitably maintained, hence they further proliferated the diseases. Bystanders said that this might not be far from the truth given a joint UNICEF and World Health Organization’s report of 2012, which projected that 34 million Nigerians performed open defecation and Nigeria was with top 5 countries in the world with the uppermost number of people defecating in the open. Ebele Okeke, the UN’s Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) ambassador for Nigeria was befuddled during the 2015 Global Hand Washing Day in Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power, saying, “At least, 124,000 children died from poor sanitation and hygiene in Nigeria every year.”
Investigations however accounted that during the Queens College epidemic, some of the students who complained of ill-health were given anti-malaria drugs by the school authorities without prior diagnosis of what their problems were. As if that was not enough number of children that were polluted by diarrhoea, three children died in Borno State in June this year after they were supposedly influenced by their parents with water gotten from filthy gutters and concoctions.
The Bulabulin Ngaranam Medical Clinic in the area discovered the deaths of the three children likewise many others that were hospitalised. Observers’ testimony confirmed, “Some of these parents resorted to either drawing water from gutters and mixed it with concoctions and forcefully injected it into the mouth of their children, which eventually caused the muscles of the intestines to indenture, leading to severe diarrhoea.”
In Nigeria, cholera and diarrhea had seen to the deaths of many children and thousands sickened, statistics showed. It was observed that many Nigerian children died of diarrhoea and cholera before the age of five. The highlight of this was that, Lancet Infectious Diseases journal of June 2 2017, said, “Half a million children under the age of five died from diarrhoea-related illnesses in 2015… 499,000 children under five – and 1.3 million people of all ages – died as a result of diarrhoea in 2015, making it the fourth leading cause of mortality among young children. Diarrhoea was responsible for 8.6% of all deaths among under fives.”
The lead author of the study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr Ali Mokdad of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said, “Diarrhoeal diseases disproportionately affect young children. Despite some promising reductions in mortality, the devastating impact of these diseases cannot be overlooked.”
Apart from the Queens College, information of November 27, 2016 stated that over 14,000 children died in Kano State in a year as cows and residents drank from the same pool of water. According to a disclosure by a data made available by the Nigerian Demographic Health Survey (NDHS 2013), “The annual live-birth figure in Kano State is 575,000. Out of this, 101,000 die before their fifth birthday. The survey showed that Kano has the highest annual live-births and deaths figures in the country.”
The height of this was that United Nations Children Education Fund report testified that the indices of diarrhoea commonness in Nigeria hinged on 18.8 per cent. Correspondingly, data said, “UNICEF noted that Nigeria’s disease burden is one of the worst in sub-Saharan Africa and above the average of 16 per cent, and diarrhoea accounts for over 16 per cent of child deaths in Nigeria with an estimated 150,000 deaths mainly among under-five children yearly. Kano alone contributes a big chunk of this annual death figure.”
While news men contacted the Kano State Government on the matter, the authorities didn’t deny the episode, but assured that the government was on top gear to arrest further occurrences. The Director-General, Media and Communications, Kano State Government House, Salihu Tanko-Yakasai was reported to have said, “The state government is determined to provide access to clean water in the entire state, especially in the rural areas. This is why all the state’s water treatment plants are being equipped with machinery, while repairs are ongoing to make them fully functional.”
The Federal Government (FG) on November 7 2016, while launching the Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) in Abuja, through the now Acting President, while then as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo confirmed the prevalence of diarrhoea, saying that 150,000 children under the age of five die yearly from diarrhoea-related diseases that are customarily distinguishable to precarious drinking water.
The FG enthused that there were though fruition in access to water supply in some areas but this was not applicable in most parts of the country where access to water supply was presently at 69% and sanitation at 29%. The FG absolved itself of the blame, saying, “This is still a far cry from what is needed. Within an ever increasing population and a drive to self-sufficiency in food production, the demand for water supply and sanitation service will continue to increase thereby requiring an innovative and holistic approach towards closing the access gaps.”
Accordingly, while Nigeria was experiencing and observing diarrhoea among her populace, “Deaths from diarrhoeal illnesses are rare in high-income countries; there was a 15.4% increase in the number of reported cases in such regions over the past decade. In the UK, 30 children under the age of five died in 2015 and there were roughly 1,500 deaths overall from diarrhoeal illnesses, a reduction of 18.5% since 2005.”
Notwithstanding, there was the Hand Washing Campaign cultivated by the authorities for remembrance of the 2008 International Year of Sanitation (IYS). This initiative was chiefly of the three objectives delineated in the Action Plan. Others were making sure that there were encouraging environments for sanitation sensitisation and hygiene programmes that would see to the building of as many lavatories as possible. Strengthening this, media reports said, “On January 19, 2016, in Abuja, Reckitt Benkisser upped its commitment to the eradication of diarrhoea among Nigerian children with the announcement of a multi-billion partnership with the FG to fight the scourge of diarrhoea among Nigerian children.
“This was disclosed when officials of the company paid a courtesy visit to the Osinbajo where they presented the ‘Save a Child a Minute’ N7.2billion programme to him. Under the programme, Nigeria will receive N1.2 billion towards creating what the company called ‘a Healthier and Prosperous Nation’.”
In this regard, pundits advised that since unsafe water and sanitation were the main causes of diarrhoea, it’s expected that hand washing and drinking safe water can condense diarrhea occurrences by approximately 30%. Those who know better added that up to 47% diminution had been accomplished in this stance.
Odimegwu Onwumere writes from Rivers State. Tel: +2348032552855. Email: [email protected]