Ruga children’s blindness: Health ministry, FCTA bring succour to community

Blueprint Weekend’s report on the predicament of more than 20 children losing their sights in Ruga, a remote settlement of nearly 5,000 residents, in Abuja, has spurred the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) and Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) into action.
AJUMA EDWINA OGIRI writes on the findings and intervention when both agencies visited the community on Wednesday
How it all started The Founder of Vaccine Network for Disease Control, Chika Offor, had gone with her team to Ruga community; one of her adopted communities, for an outreach programme, where they met two-year-old Aliyu Buhari, who has difficulty seeing without squinting his eyes.
According to Byhari’s parents: “When Buhari was a year old, we noticed he was squinting and found it difficult to see normal like other children.
We took him to a hospital in Zaria.
After examining his eyes, we were told he needs corrective surgery.
We did not have money for the surgery, so we came back to Abuja,” Buhari’s father, Suleiman Aliyu, told Blueprint Weekend.
Aliyu, a local farmer, who lives in a shack with his wife and eight children, added that two of his children are also suffering from the same eye infection as Buhari, even though they have not gone blind.
Like Buhari, so many other children in the sprawling settlement are also going blind.
Offor, supported Aliyu’s family to take the child to the Federal Medical Centre, Jabi, after which they were referred to Kaduna.
Recounting her experience, she said, “When we took him to Kaduna, the ophthalmologist told us that the optic nerves in his eyes were dead and there was nothing they could do about the child.
“When other parents heard that Buhari had returned from Kaduna, they brought their children who have similar infection, and we discovered that other children in the community were already blind.
While some were blind in one eye, others are about going blind completely.
So we decided that we had to do something about it.
“We do not know the cause of the blindness, but what we know is that we have over 20 children who are challenged in this capacity.” According to her, majority of the affected children are from the Fulani villages by the hilly part of the community, and further explained that some of the affected children will be taken to Asokoro General Hospital, staing.
“FCT has this programme for IDPs, where you can go to Asokoro hospital or Wuse General Hospital to receive free treatment, but you first have to be registered in the programme.
“We have been trying to register this community; as it is an illegal settlement and they are all from different parts of Nigeria, and we are rounding up already .
They may not be in the IDP camp, but they are internally displaced persons.
This community is facing many challenges and the are endless,” she stated.
Our correspondent also reported that Offor had alerted the Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), and Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), about the plight of the children, just as she had also sent a letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and was awaiting their intervention.
Also speaking to Blueprint Weekend, Mark Okere, who runs a makeshift school along with his wife, Chinwe Okere, who is a trained teacher.
“There are many children with this problem here.
We have been teaching in this community for more than two years, when we noticed the children in this community have no access to any form of education.
We have about 100 pupils in our school, and noticed their number started reducing.
We later found out the reduction was as a result of an eye infection which was making the children to go blind,” he explained.
Cause of ‘blindness’ The Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) and Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) in response to the plight of residents of Ruga were at the community within the week for a situation assessment and fact finding, as well as to offer free eye care services.
According to a consultant ophthalmologist in charge of coordinating national eye health programme, Dr.
Okolo Oteri, for the ministry, some of the eye infections were as a result of untreated allergy; untreated refractive error; congenital glaucoma; optic neuritis; complicated cataract and allergic conjunctivitis.
Dr.
Oteri further revealed that twoyear-old Buhari, suffered from optic neuritis, which was not properly managed, thereby leading to blindness in that eye, and also has complicated cataract in the second eye.
“There were reports that there is a high prevalence of childhood blindness in this community.
So, we came here as part of our programme to check if it was true, and go back to strategies with our partners to see how we could intervene.
“What we have here generally is like an eye disease, which you will find in a normal population.
The issue with this community is lack of access to healthcare.
A significant number of them have allergic conjunctivitis.
It is a chronic condition that causes itching.
Continuous itching turns the conjunctive brown.
So, the brownish colour is an indication of chronic untreated allergy,” he said.
Intervention Dr.
Oteri, who promised to carry out surgeries on the children in need of surgery, including special surgery for little Buhari, said: “We are going to work out plans to have surgeries for those who need surgery; especially for the child with congenital glaucoma.
We are going to work with our partners, Christian Blindness Mission (CBM), on arranging surgeries for them in our partner hospitals.
We are also going to create a programme with our partners, to ensure that they have consultants, examination consultations, and then a treatment plan will be laid out.” The delegation from the FCTA, on its part, took a sample of the community’s water, to test for environmental factors.
Our correspondent, however, could not get comment from the FCTA, who insisted that an official statement would be made after tests are conducted in a bid further understand the causes of the blindness.
With this intervention from the government, expectation is that these children will regain their sights and have normal childhood without complications arising from the eye infection, just as further cases would be prevented.

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