Since the reported outbreak of monkey-pox in Bayelsa State, residents have been on edge despite government’s assurance that the situation is under control. AUSTIN EBIPADE reports that residents are taking extra measures to protect themselves, even as other do not believe the disease was as a result of monkey meat consumption.
THOUGH chickenpox and smallpox are not new, in fact the former having been eradicated decades ago, the outbreak of another disease with pox as suffix was enough to strike fear into the hearts of Nigerians, more so Bayelsans where it has been recorded.
To many residents it was a resurgence of the deadly Ebola virus, particularly because of its sudden spread, in which 10 infected persons and a doctor had been quarantined at the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri, while 47 others who had come in contact with them are being sought and asked to voluntarily present themselves for quarantine in order to curtail the spread of the viral disease in the state.
By the time photographs of victims began to circulate, especially in the social media, residents had become more terrified, while consciously avoiding unnecessary physical contacts in order not to contract the disease.
When Sunday Tribune visited some communities in Yenagoa, the state capital, it was learnt that the monkeypox epidemic disease broke out in a community called Agbura in Yenagoa Local Government Area of the state.
It was learnt that a hunter had killed and eaten a monkey and, subsequently, his families and neighbours began to develop boil-like rashes all over their bodies.
However, some residents of the community still doubted the connection between the boil-like rashes and monkey meat consumption, especially many Bayelsans who are addicted to bush meat, particularly hunters and their family members. Those who patronise bush meat sellers still do not believe that bush meat could cause the viral disease.
One hunter, Famzie Eze, who still showed his doubts about the cause of the disease, said “we have been hunting and eating monkeys in this community since I was born. How come we didn’t contract any disease? Why now? The white man has simply come up with this to be relevant so that funds would be committed to them to go into research in order to find cure for the so-called viral disease (monkeypox).”
But the reality of the outbreak of the disease became more pronounced and caused the doubting Thomases to have a change of heart after it became known that many of those who had had contact with victims at Biseni, another community in Yenagoa Local Government Area, had been taken to the Niger Delta Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri and quarantined.
Not even the assurances by government that the situation has been brought under control could douse the fear that still pervades the community, particularly as residents were told that the viral disease is air borne and has the possibility of spreading to others.
Also, while Yenagoa remains the first index place where the epidemic broke out, residents of other local government areas, such as Ekeremor, Ogbia, Nembe, Brass, Southern Ijaw and Kolokuma/Opokuma nurse the fear of the possibility of the disease getting to them, owing to their proximity to the state capital.
The disease, it was learnt, was first seen in monkeys, hence the name “monkeypox” but other animals, such as antelopes, squirrels, rats and others that people consume on a daily basis as “bush meat,” it was said, could also be sources of the viral disease.
According to medical experts, symptoms of monkeypox include severe headache, fever, and back pain while the most worrisome symptom is the rashes on all parts of the human body.
According to research, monkeypox disease had been recorded in Central Africa, especially Congo, and that the manifestation of the virus in West Africa is milder compared to what was seen in Central Africa Republic.
When Sunday Tribune contacted the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Health, Professor Ebitimitula Etebu, who confirmed the outbreak in the state, he allayed fears over the disease (monkeypox), saying it is not deadly, even as he noted that the virus has an incubation period. He noted that monkeypox was self-limiting and that within two to four weeks, those infected would have been cured and become immune against the virus for life.
Etebu averred that government is taking care of all isolated cases while the people are being sensitised on radio, television, through jingles and even town criers in local communities to educate them about the disease assure them that it is not deadly.
He advised residents to observe personal hygiene by washing their hands always and refrain from having contact with dead animals and their excreta.
The commissioner urged residents not to panic, even as he noted that the state has donated personal protective equipment to workers in the health sector for protection while caring for victims. He advised residents to stop eating monkey, squirrel, antelope, rats, bush rat and other bush meat/animals, assuring that monkeypox has no known case of mortality and that the state government is on top of the situation.
Sunday Tribune, however, noted that since the outbreak of the disease some residents have started taking precautionary measures. Some of them could be seen wearing gloves, particularly at market places.
A respondent, Madam Joy Anayo, a trader at the Swali market said though she heard that government was on top of the situation, she would still protect herself by putting on gloves while dealing with customers.
“There is more to the new ailment, and the symptoms are frightening. Imagine boil-like pox all over the human body. Nothing can be more discomforting than that,” she said.
Another respondent, popularly called Alhaji Nama, who sells meat, said “since samples of the virus had been sent to the World Health Organisation, it is up to residents to free themselves of fear, because it kills faster than any viral disease.”
He, however, noted that he has strictly adhered to precautionary measures by transacting his business in a clean environment, wash his hands after sales, amongst others.
The monkeypox virus has also caused a sharp drop in business for hunters in the state, as their source of livelihood is being greatly affected. Sunday Tribune learnt that people have stopped purchasing bush meat on the highways.
Mr Apana Ogieva, the head of the hunters association, regretted that the outbreak of monkeypox has thrown him and his fellow hunters out of business, stressing that people no longer purchase meat from them. He is afraid that families of members may suffer untold hardship.
He, however, prayed that the sample sent to the WHO test negative to erode the fear associated with buying bush meat and enable them to bounce back in business.
Fear of the disease has also spread to some private schools in the state, as teachers have urged pupils to wear gloves to schools as a preventive measure, while also instructing them to always wash their hands with soap.
Similarly, the race for prevention is not limited to traders and teachers or pupils. Even bus drivers have also been seen putting on gloves while dealing with passengers, especially those plying the Mbiama-Yenagoa route.
A driver, simply referred to as Safe Pilot, said he chose to wear gloves to protect himself because “life has no duplicate,” stressing that Bayelsans have not heard the last on the disease, particularly as they await the WHO report, even as he noted that “passengers come from different homes; some are sick; others are healthy, but prevention is better than cure.”
To this end, though government through the mass media has allayed fear and tried to build confidence among residents, anxiety still runs high, just as people have also begun to take their destinies into their own hands by adopting preventive measures..
Discussion about this post