4 May 2010
Lagos â€” Mr. Sunday Biya, a sub-ward head in Madakiya village in Zangon Kataf Local Government area of Kaduna State was the first person to die from an outbreak of Cerebro Spinal Meningitis (CSM) in the village. Later on some others followed and with time as the virus spread, more and more became infected and the number of those infected in the villages increased.
Children were the worst affected as several of them were admitted into hospitals. The story became even messier when Kigudu, another village within the same local government started recording deaths from the outbreak, while those lucky enough simply spend time in the hospitals and were later discharged.
The District Head of Madakiya, Dr. David Kantyock who spoke through his secretary, Mr. Dominic Maza, made an urgent appeal for drugs and government attention. He said his fear was that the community was not even sure that the children being taken to hospitals would have drugs and the required medical attention, but still advised parents to quickly take their children to the nearest health centre for vaccination against the deadly disease. He said those who noticed any abnormal behavior from their children should also quickly rushed them to any health centre for examination.
Based on the situation, the Isaiah Balat Foundation decided to ensure the vaccination of more than a million people across the state. The foundation decided that instead of government or individuals responding when any outbreak occurs, which always leads to death, the initiative now should be preventive, which they believed is cheaper than treating it.
The initiator of the foundation, Senator Isaiah Balat who was also a former works minister under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, told THISDAY during the beginning of the vaccination exercise in Madakiya - same village where the outbreak was first noticed, that "the idea of coming up with a foundation like this is to touch the lives of the less privilege as a way of giving back to the society what it has done to me and trying to reach people through the foundation. It is not because one is rich, but because of the perception that I can help the less privileged in the society, in the area of health, education, poverty alleviation and agriculture," he said.
The former minister noted that the foundation needed to vaccinates the rural dwellers because lives are at stake and something needed to be done quickly so as to avert further lose of lives. He said with the dilapidated situation of health care in the country, it is important that privileged individuals in the society rise up and assist those always at the mercy of any epidemic outbreak like meningitis.
Consequently, the foundation commenced the vaccination of children at the Madakiya rural clinic and when it began, the number of children and adult that turn up almost overwhelm the doctors and nurses that the foundation came with. As more children are vaccinated, more troop in, some on their own while others with their parents. Even those who couldn't walk either due to old age or because of frail health were brought to the venue on bicycles and motorcycles.
The secretary of the district head of the village, Malam Dominic Maza, who spoke to THISDAY said," last year we had some casualties when meningitis broke out in this village, and some vaccines were provided by this same foundation. This year again, a sub ward head, Sunday Biya was the first person to die from meningitis followed by others in this village (Madakiya) and Bodiri village. Some were lucky to survive it after spending weeks in the hospital, and as I am now talking to you we still have some people on admission in several hospitals," he said.
Even when the doctors told parents that pregnant women and children not up to two years cannot receive the vaccines; some parents kept insisting that their children be given. With time certain children whose years were assumed not to be up to two years were denied the vaccine even thought their parents said they were.
An elated mother who brought five of her children, including herself for the vaccination, told THISDAY "last year my third girl was infected with meningitis; it took the grace of God for her to survive. Even though some vaccines were given to people last year, it didn't get to my family because when we heard about it, the people administrating the vaccines had already left the town before we could come.
"So this year, when they told us, after some people had died, that free vaccines would be given, I made up my mind that all my family would be vaccinated and to God be the glory, we have all been vaccinated, including my husband," she said.
From there, the Isaiah Balat Foundation traveled to Kagoro village in Kaura Local Government, where the paramount ruler of the area, Oegwam Ufai Bonet was the first person to be vaccinated, followed by some of his council members. A visibly happy Bonet, who is the vice chairman of the Traditional Council of the state, said when the team paid homage to him in his palace, that "such gesture are a key requirement from individuals that have risen to the peak of their profession and that unless the less privilege are supported, lives would continued to be lost. Even though this gesture may not look much to you, but you would not know the number of lives that would be save," he said.
It was also in Kagoro that Balat revealed that Bill Clinton actually gave him the idea for the foundation when he met him in the cause of national service. "I got the idea of putting together this foundation from America. I visited Bill Clinton, the former president of America when he was launching his own foundation. I went there with Obasanjo when he was the president and I was in the Senate.
"At that occasion, Clinton made a very passionate speech. He said 'that there are a lot of things you can do to touch the lives of people. You don't have to do it while you are in government' and he mentioned the trips he made around the world and how he realised that a greater majority of the people are in need and there is no way that government alone can do everything. There, the idea from him was that we should form something similar that can reach out to the less privilege.
"We then made contacts to people all around the world that we know and got to know that several people are willing to help us and all they required are capable, honest and reputable people to man such organisations and when the meningitis outbreak occurred, we made contacts and got the vaccines which we are administrating," he said.
From Kaura Local Government where more than 2000 people were vaccinated, the team moved some days later to Kigudu district in Zangon Kataf where 10 lives were lost earlier in the year and in that district more than 5000 people, mostly women and children were vaccinated. Some had trekked some kilometers from adjoining villages to get to the area. The district head of the village, Malam Yakubu Sule, while thanking the foundation, disclosed that over 10 people mostly children have lost their live to the outbreak, adding that all effort to get the attention of the local government could not yield positive result.
"We have on several occasions informed the council chairman, Mr. Timmy Kambai, a lawyer over the outbreak and how children are dying, but to our surprise the local government maintained silence over the matter. We will continue to thank Senator Balat for coming to our aid," he said.
A cross-section of parents who also spoke, lamented over what they claimed was government negligence to their plight, saying "our children would have been alive today had government taken quick action to curtail the situation when it started because they were informed of the outbreak. But they could not do anything about it," the said, adding that the provision of the dividend of democracy to them, especially in the area of medical care is yet to get to them.
A 37-year-old woman who could not hide her tears while narrating to THISDAY how she lost her six-year only child as a result of the outbreak, explained that "I lost my child within five hours of contacting the disease. I believe my child would have survived if there were any drug. This is because it is the responsibility of the government to provide good health care to us, but they have ran away from their responsibility and when election comes, they will come and start promising everything."
Also speaking, the Councilor representing Gora Ward in the Local Government, said "the local government was informed and they came and discover that it is measles and meningitis and went back. So, when I discovered that the local government was delaying, we made contact with the Isaiah Balat Foundation who quickly responded to our problem."
Presently, the foundation had vaccinated over 8,000 people and has promised to vaccinates more and cover more local governments in the state, and hopefully goes beyond the state as it grows stronger. Already, Kachia local government, one of the biggest local governments in the state is next on the lists to be visited soon, THISDAY learnt.
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