Water, they say, is life. Hardly is there human endeavour, particularly as it affects health, that water is not required. It is therefore a necessity for all. However, this essential need is a luxury to the people of Iri district in Kajuru Local government area of Kaduna State. To the residents and their immediate neighbours, water is a great source of burden.
This is because the only river that flows across and serves as source of water for drinking, bathing and other uses for the community breeds Tse-tse/black flies leaving the people with river blindness.
A visit by a team of investigative journalists to Iri District gathered that the situation is getting worst by the day.
Iri is said to be one of the areas with high cases of river blindness in the Local government. Others include Ungwan Makama village in Robo, and Angwan Fada, all in the same axis with Iri. Angwan Aku in Fadama kuroro.
As it stands, hundreds of residents of these communities have gone blind and several others are gradually going blind with new cases cropping up as a result of the black flies.
There have been new cases of river blindness in these communities since 2012, which includes various degrees of blindness (those who have gone completely blind and those who are gradually going blind).
Affected residents in Iri District narrated their stories one after the other to the investigative team. An Elderly woman, Yawo Yuguda and mother of two children explained how she got blind years back.
“I got blind years back and till date nobody tell me the reason for my blindness, I even went to Kafanchan hospital for treatment they couldn’t explained to me the main reason for the blindness, so I took it as my destiny,” she said.
Alisabatu Zonkwa is another blind woman within Iri village who said she got blind some 30 years back. “Well, when people started going blind in the village nobody came to explain the reason behind it, we were only left to go looking for help. Mine started like a joke with itching before I later lost my sight completely,” she said.
Sixty years old Abdulmumini Ali said his eye problem started 3 years ago. “I started having this eye problem three years ago, it started with itching, sometimes I feel as if I’m being bitten inside.
“Although, some persons from the city do visit us to distribute drugs to us and they often told us that the drugs will help protect us, we still record high rate of river blindness.
“My elder brother already lost his sight and the problem is the same. It all started last three years. We know something was wrong in the village but we don’t know what it’s,” he said.
Village Head of Hausa Community in the village 65 years old Malam Garba lost complete sight of his left eye.
“I can’t see with my left eye as I talked to you now and this problem just started last year. I don’t know the cause but it began with inching, now the right eye too is having problem which is making me worried because it seems soon I will lose my sight completely.
On whether they have received help from the government about this he said “the last time I could remember some people came and fumigated river Iri was in the 70s, because they said the problem was the river. We were told that there were tsetse flies in the riverside,” he said.
Paul Sanda, a retired soldier said he returned to the village with his family three years ago and soon thereafter he lost his sight.
“When I was in the city my eyes were fine but since I returned home after my retirement my eyes started having problems. That was in 2003. I visited National Eye Centre, Kaduna, where I was operated upon but still I’m not seeing clearly,” he said.
Also, 80 years old, Doma Ubandoma, said he lost his sight completely in 2012. “The problem is that some of us don’t go to hospital because we are poor and we don’t know the real cause of the blindness in the community but people said it’s has to do with the river, We just need help,” he said.
Further, 65-year-old Alex Danladi said hers began five years ago. “It began with itching before I went to hospital once and they gave me drugs but still the pains and itching still continues. My daughter, who is 18 years old, has started complaining about eye itching last year.
“The truth is before we moved from the city to the village we never had this symptom. So, we were all worried because we don’t know the cause,” she said.
A pathetic story, is that of a young man, Jatau, 40 years, who is also blind and who the team of investigative journalists stumbled upon on their way to the River Iri seated helplessly under the tree in front of his compound.
This young man at his prime age said it started like a child’s play but he eventually lost his first eye and thereafter he lost the second eye too.
Another touching story is that of a young woman (blind) with a baby on her back and lead by another of her daughter who said they were on their way back from the farm.
It was gathered that River Iri is the source of the blindness in the district. According to findings the villagers got bitten by the tsetse flies whenever they went to the river to fetch water and the flies carried a worm that caused blindness to the people.
District Head of Iri Peter -A- Magaji was not fully in the picture of the re-emergence of the tse-tse flies in his community until the team of investigative journalists visited the community.
“Well, we had the problem but your visit made us to realize the gravity of the issue. My people came out now to explain that they are going blind and we suspect the river.
“We quite recalled that the river was fumigated years back which help killed the flies but now I heard that the flies are resurfacing which means something urgent need to be done about it.
“We are appealing to government to help provide us with boreholes in Iri district because as it’s now River Iri is the only source of water in this village and those around us. The river sometimes get dried off but people still go there to dig in search of water.
“I’m afraid that people from Hayin Sarki and negbouring villages still fetch water from the dried river despite the risk involved. I think if the local government can provide us with a borehole it will go a long way in addressing the water problem,” he said.
The district head also appealed to government for a frequent fumigation of the river to control the flies. According to him, there are different tribes living in the community such as Adara, fulani, Hausa and Igbo in their thousands.
“Farming is what we do for a living. River Makoro is another river at another district that produce such flies. We need help from government to free us from these flies that are sending our people blind,” he said.
Lack of access to clean Water has always been the problem of the communities around IRI with population of over 100 thousand.
“However other villages such as Hayin Sarki, Sabon Gida, Inkirmi, Karmai, Makoro District, Gadan Malam Mamman among others also rely on this river as it source of water as no alternative at their disposal,” the District head said.
Findings by the investigative teams further reveals that the story is the same in 14 districts (Iri inclusive) in kajuru local government area.
The 14 districts includes Maro ward 1 district (Maro District), Idon ward – 2 districts (Idon and Iri districts), Tantatu ward – 1 district (tantatu district), Afogoh ward – 1 district (Afogoh district), Kufana ward – 2 districts (Kufana and Angwan Aku districts), Rimau ward – 1 district (Rimau district), Kalla ward – 1 district (Kalla district), Kajuru ward – 4 districts (Kyamara, Dawaki, Buda and… districts) and Kasuwan Magani ward – 1 district (Dusten Gaiya district) all in Kajuru Local government area of Kaduna State.
The communities were said to be undergoing these mess because it is neglected – There is gap as government is not constantly in touch with the villagers and again poor supervision is keeping govt away from knowing the increase in new cases.
A visit to the Department of Health, Kajuru Local government area secretariat further confirmed fresh cases and presence of black flies but no intervention is done by the government except that by an International Non Governmental Organization, Sightsavers.
In fact, it was gathered that Sightsavers spends over 11 million naira annually for provision of mectizan and other services in Kaduna State. This was according to budget document of Kaduna State.
Interacting with the Programme Officer of Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTD, at the Health Department of Kajuru Local government area, Mr. Francis Habakuk said river blindness has been a source of concern to the local government area for a long time now.
According to him, Last December, a student from ABU carried out research on river blindness in Angwan Fada community. “He took blood sample of some residents, as well as some black flies for lab tests.
“He later sent the results to me and it indicated that the blood samples contain worms that cause river blindness. He also said his test reveals that black flies carry the worms that causes the river blindness,” he stated.
He blamed the villagers for not reporting the cases to the appropriate authorities as expected and further said the intervention by the sight savers has cut down the trend in the area by 40 percent.
According to him, “The LGA has for 17 years now been benefitting provision of mectizan drugs against river blindness, courtesy Sight Savers International. Sight Savers International give us mectizan every year for affected communities. We carry out supervision and distribute Mectizan to affected persons in the area.”
“We engage Community Directed Distributors, CDD, who are members of respective communities to carry out the distribution of the drugs every year in their areas. Last year, in November, we received a delegation of some visitors from United States, U.S in collaboration with NPHCDA in Abuja.”
“Communities visited by the Team included Rafin Kunu and Angwan Fada all under Kajuru but Iri not included. They were led here by our Coordinator, Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTD, Kaduna State.”
“We ask the Community members to report cases of river blindness to us, but they don’t report to us. They just sit at home.”
“Since I assume office in the last five years, it’s only old cases of river blindness that we have on record, except for the one new case M&E reported in Agwala in Afogoh district – Afogoh.”
“Aside from the mectizan, the department suggests to government leaders to consider distribution of mosquito nets to mitigate the problem. We distribute mectizan in 119 communities to over 77,000 residents,” Mr. Habakuk said.
However, the investigation which took the team a month also discovered lapses as follows and urgently needs redress to turn around the misfortunes that had befallen people of these communities.
First, the affected areas badly need for more boreholes as residents of these communities (Iri Station, Hayin Sarki and others) still do not have any other source of getting portable water but the highly infected river.
Government should wake up to its responsibility in terms of provision of health care service delivery in the state because at the moment sightsaver is the only NGO or body largely providing mectizan to river blindness victims in the state. This implies if the NGO decides to withdraw it intervention the situation will be disastrous for the villagers.
Lastly, the need for improvement in surveillance structure which is weak just as the need for government to step up interventions in affected areas is paramount because as it is major intervention are carried out by NGO – Sightsavers International.

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