Records at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (the only tertiary hospital in the northeast sub-region of Nigeria) made available to our Correspondent, revealed that 4 out of every 10 concurrent cases with bone marrow malignancy especially cancer of the blood, Leukemia, comes from Bade-Nguru wetlands of Yobe State, in the region.
However, a reporting trip to the wetlands revealed that the UMTH statistics appears to understate the disease – only few people have access to hospitals where such diseases can be diagnosed – most of the victims’ attributed superstition as the cause of what had befallen them and as such, they think their Leukemia can only be treated by traditional medicine, Sunday Trust reliably gathered.
At the Federal Medical Center Nguru, the conveyor-belt of this disease to the UMTH, patients with signs of Leukemia are even more. However, over 70 percent of these patients do not proceed to referral centers either in Kano or Maiduguri. The few that reluctantly do that are faced with very expensive drug therapy in an attempt to prolong their lives.
According to some experts in Maiduguri, the possible causes of the disease vary like the reasons many villagers give, not to go to any hospital to seek help. Perhaps, the main cause of the disease in the words of these experts are that people in the area have genetic predisposition and when they come in contact with chemicals for example Organophosphorus compounds, they become susceptible to the disease.
According to Dr. M.I. Ahmed, a specialist in aquatic medicine with the faculty of Veteinary Medicine, University of Maiduguri said, the wetlands of Yobe has a very unique water body that is good for fish production and fish is an important dietary protein while it helps particularly the artisan fishermen to earn their living. However, the population of feral fish that is mainly depended on here had dwindle greatly both as a result of global warming and as a result of indiscriminate use of fishing gears that are used not only to hunt table size fish but even fingerlings. Therefore, people in these areas are left with little or no fish resource to live on, Ahmed implied.
A reporting trip to the wetlands revealed that artisan fishermen have become desperate; they go to the extent of poisoning the water itself to reach where he cannot reach with his fishing gears, and apparently they use any chemical that is readily available to them such as gamalin 20, or other insecticides and pesticides, which are organophosphorus compounds.
According to scientists when these chemicals are taken in by fish, it will be absolved through the intestine, to their tissues. Man at top of the food chain gets these chemicals using fish as a source of food, Ahmed implied.
Interestingly Sunday Trust learnt that these chemicals end up in the tissues at different concentration in both fish and man that consume them, it accumulates in different tissues like in the muscle, the kidney, the liver. The concentration of these toxic varies with different tissues. If you look at the liver of every living creature it is the detoxification centre and because these chemicals are not bio-degradable so they are not destroyed in the body. Therefore, it will accumulate to cause tissue destruction.
According to Doctor Usman Abjah, a Consultant Hematologist with the UMTH, “when man eats these fish it affects him severely and Leukemia cannot be over ruled in such a case.” Though, if you look at Leukemia per se, the main cause of the disease is likely unknown. It is believed that an individual can get Leukemia only when he has genetic predisposition. But then, if you have genetic susceptibility in the presence of chemicals you will come down with the disease easily, Abjah implied.
According to the Commissioner of Health, Yobe State Alhaji Idrissa Mai Bukar Machina said, the bulk of work for health personnel are not just to go to the hospital and start diagnosing patients with all sorts of diseases, the bulk of work lies with the administrators, the information dissimulators and even doctors them selves to educate. I will rightly say that prevention is better than cure people must be enlightened about their actions and about this disease, “it is the responsibility of all the stake holders to enlighten people especially villagers,” said Idrissa.
However, many of the fishermen that spoke to this Correspondent both in Bade and Nguru local governments argued that “it is not practicable to use chemicals to catch fish in fast flowing rivers” like in river Gashua or Hadeija, instead, they pointed accusing fingers to either, fish dealers that may be “using such chemicals to preserve fish or certain fishermen that concentrate on fishing in ponds around the wetlands, may be employing such harmful methods,” said Mohammed Musa Dan Chadi, the chairman fishermen Association (firgi section) in Gashua.
Many of the fish dealers told our Correspondent that some of their colleagues apply gamalin or DDT to prevent insects from destroying their fish. However, they insisted that only a negligible number of them are involved in such acts. When they are caught such members face disciplinary actions but surprisingly “they are never handed over to the Police,” said a fish dealer in Gashua names withheld.
According to Engineer Mohammed Wakili Suraj, member Yobe State House of Assembly, representing Bade east Constituency said, there are security organs, the Police and there are even special securities employed to protect the wetlands for example, the only problem they are having is they lack some basic tools and support from the local authorities that is why people with impunity operate using harmful chemicals like gamalin that have been banned by the WHO to catch birds or fish etc.
Sunday Trust visited 11 communities within Bade and Nguru, the name gamalin is a common feature in their lives. However interesting, is their insistence that they don’t use these chemicals to catch fish, instead, “my people use chemicals mainly to catch large birds and in the process, both bird that perched on the water and every aquatic life in the poisoned water dies,” said Alhaji Lawan Dagona, the village head of one of the most prominent hub for migratory birds in the Bade-Nguru wetlands.
In most of these communities, the use of chemicals to catch migratory birds that mostly migrate from all over the world is the best way not to attract rangers that guard the Dagona Water Fowls Sanctuary or, “if we shut the birds most times they fall in the wild where we don’t see, so instead, we apply chemicals and the birds die instantly,” said a villager whose names are withheld. “But we don’t eat the intestines, so we wont catch any diseases,” said the same villager.
“It was recently that a doctor told me in a workshop that whether we throw away the intestines or not, the poison that killed the bird instantly goes every where into the body,” said Lawan Dagona “and because most of these chemicals are not bio degradable they accumulate in either the kidney, liver of the fish that are hardly thrown away or in the tissues of the dead bird. When they are consumed by humans it moves into vital organs of that human, causing severe health problems,” said Abjah.
The symptoms of Leukemia is a common feature in these villages but they called it is harbin jeji (to be stoned mysterious) or some claimed it is Jin (demons) that caused many of their loved ones to come down with the disease. “It is common to have such disease especially if you are living close to water I don’t think the disease is as a result of the fish or birds we catch with gamalin,” said a villager names withheld.
“Poverty is a major motivation of this problem, this is why we are fighting that ‘Kafin Zaki’ dam should not be built because if you look at the downstream of the Hadeija – Jama’are river basin, most of the people along this shores depend on farming and fishing to survive and despite the problems of global warming that have forced some people into some of these sharp practices, the Bauchi state government is trying to build a dam to even reduce the water that is flowing,” said Suraj.
According to Suraj it was the scarce water resource that led to most of these problems in the first place, therefore, any attempt not to improve the lives of these people rather affect their livelihood, will lead to more problems which is already killing hundreds of people that can hardly feed them selves let alone, treat themselves, as a doctor at FMC Nguru puts it, “rich men disease” such as Leukemia Lymphoma and Kidney problems.