Two years after Boko Haram attacks forced them to flee their homes in the north-east Nigeria, a fresh grief has crept in on some internally displaced persons camped in Wasa, a rural community in the suburb of Apo in Abuja. Diarrhoea outbreak, the second in just over a year, claimed the lives of 10 children in the camp in November.
Rilwanu Mohammed, the Executive Secretary of the Federal Capital Territory Primary Health Care Development Board, PHCDB, told PREMIUM TIMES that the disease broke out on November 1.
Elizabeth Ibrahim lost her 7-year old boy, Musa, to the outbreak. She said the boy died “as a result of frequent stooling and vomiting”.
“We moved with my husband and four children into this camp a year ago from Gwoza, Borno State when Boko Haram seized our hamlet”, she told PREMIUM TIMES in Hausa.
Mrs. Ibrahim narrated her ordeal as she sat on a mat in front of their two-bedroom flat at the camp, surrounded by her three surviving children. An aged woman and some neighbourhood children sat close by, condoling with the bereaved family.
“Musa was not the only one passing stool, we all had been passing stool for a few days”, Mrs. Ibrahim said.
“On the day he died, he went out to play in the afternoon after eating. He later came back, complaining of stomach ache. I gave him ‘Flagyl’ and he went to sleep. Later in the evening, when I tried waking him up, I discovered that he was dead”, she recalled as others around her grunted.
It was not the first time that the camp was hit by the epidemic. Earlier in 2015, a diarrhoea outbreak had claimed six lives in the camp.
LACK OF WATER
Displaced persons, IDPs, narrated how the absence of potable water has been a major problem for the over 5000 residents.
“We drink water from the borehole, which we buy for N10 per jerry can,” Mrs. Ibrahim said.
But that was only after an NGO constructed a borehole and installed two plastic tanks in the camp.
“Before then, our only source of water was the stream a few kilometres across the camp”, she added.
Mrs. Ibrahim, like other members of the camp, feels neglected by the Nigerian government. She does not know what the future holds for her family, who like tens of thousands of IDPs displaced by the Boko Haram are scattered across Abuja without any government assistance.
The government has repeatedly asked the IDPs to return to their homes in Borno. But despite government efforts, attacks by Boko Haram on civilians and soldiers are still rampant in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, discouraging the displaced persons from returning.
The Boko Haram insurgency has caused the death of over 20,000 people while millions of others like those in Wasa have been displaced from their homes. Unfortunately for IDPs who moved outside of the north-east to Abuja and other places, the attention of the government and local and international organisations is fixed mainly on displaced persons who remained in the troubled region.
ABANDONED HEALTH CENTRE
At the Wasa camp, although two or three families are cramped into each of the two-bedroom flats, there is no facility for health care service in the camp. A primary health care centre donated by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, was completed in March, but it has not been opened to serve the residents.
Mr. Mohammed, the Abuja primary health care official, said the centre was not handed over to his board, so it cannot operate the facility.
Asked what government was doing to prevent future diarrhoea deaths at the camp, Mr. Mohammed said the housing conditions and economic vulnerabilities of the residents would always put them at the risk of the killer disease.
He, however, said the victims of the latest outbreak had been treated by the board, and that the situation was under control.
The secretary said all the children in the community had also been vaccinated, and the two boreholes in the Wasa community decontaminated with chlorine gas.
The IDPs coordinator for Abuja Municipal Area Council, Abdulkareem Mustapha, also said the council had posted a health worker to provide health services at the camp.
The lack of water supply, however, means that residents of the camp will remain exposed to sanitation problems.
Mr. Mohammed said the primary healthcare board had advised residents against open defecation, practised by residents of the camp.
But Geoffrey Bitrus, one of the residents, said open defecation became the norm in the camp because the pit latrines, donated by Caritas Nigeria, had long been abandoned due to the lack of water, poor construction and poor management.
Evaritus Bassey, a reverend father and Chief Executive Officer of Caritas Nigeria, said the ventilated toilets were short-term emergency interventions.
He said a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene committee comprising of leaders of the IDPs were taught management of the pit toilets.
That maintenance never occurred, making the latrines abandoned and a source of diseases of residents of the area.
Reacting to the absence of water and sanitation facilities at the camp, the Communications and Campaigns Manager of WaterAid Nigeria, Oluwaseyi Abdulmalik, appealed to authorities and residents on the need to promote personal hygiene. She described it is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing child diarrhoea deaths.
While authorities and organisations hassle over who to provide and maintain hygiene facilities at the Wasa camp, residents like Mrs. Ibrahim continue to lament their situation.
She said she never expected to lose her child to diarrhoea and feels strongly that the Nigerian government should pay a closer attention to the welfare of IDPs in Abuja.