How Poor Environmental Hygiene Spikes Death Among Children In Biu

By Rukaiyya Idris 

Hauwa Abdullahi, a mother of three, returned home from her farm at about 5 pm and met her youngest child in a critically ill condition. 

His sisters said they had lost count of the number of times they had to wash him  off the watery stool he consistently excretes since their mother left them in the morning. So they had to leave him with the mess. 

The four years old boy was looking weak as he lay on the floor with flies perching all over his body. 

“I was shocked to see him in such a condition, I had to quickly bathe him, as his sisters told me that he had been stooling and vomiting all day,” she said. 

Gripped with fear Ms Hauwa had to rush the child to the nearest medicine store for help. But upon examining his condition the pharmacist advised her to take him to the hospital. 

“ I ran back home to borrow money from my neighbour, who gave me N2,000, and with that, I took my som to the hospital immediately, ”Ms Hauwa said. 

 “At the hospital, the pediatric nurse yelled at me, that I am not being careful with the type of water my son drinks, he told me that instant taking contaminated water can lead to vomiting and even diarrhoea.”

Children playing at dump site near a water way in Zaramiringa, Biu. Photo credit: Rukayya/ThT

She was so lucky the child got the needed medication and he was saved. 

But  Aisha Jibril, another mother of five children, was not as lucky as Ms Hauwa and her son. 

She recently lost her three years old child to “an unknown cause”. 

My daughter, Hajara, complained of stomach ache for less than 24hrs before her death,” she said amidst tears. 

“I noticed that she’s having diarrhoea a day before she started complaining, I didn’t take it seriously, and that was how I lost her.” She sobbed. 

Even Aisha’s story wasn’t as heartbroken as that of the Mohammeds. 

Speaking with The Humanitarian Times,

Habiba Mohammed said she and her family now live in perpetual fear of losing their remaining kind after losing two of her siblings.   

“I lost two of my siblings in 2021 during the cholera outbreak; since then we’ve been living with the fear of any pandemic disease especially in this raining season because the cholera occurs yearly and around this period of the year, ” she said 

The young lady blamed the plight of the children on parents allowing them to play in dump sites as well as streaming or pooled waters during the rainy seasons. 

“The problem is that children in this area are used to staying outside, playing on the landfill site and waterways,” she said. 

“We have always warned them not to allow the kids to go to such places, but they would not listen because some of the children here are not attending school.”

A sewage system in Zaramiringa, Biu. Photo credit: Rukayya/ThT

A grandmother, Amina Yakubu, from Zara-Miringa, rushed her two grandchildren to the   Pediatric Unit, General Hospital Biu so that the doctors could save their lives. 

All her family members experience watery stool and dizziness after eating boiled cassava brought to them from the market. But in the case of Daso, the name of the child she brought to the hospiakid, it was worse than the others. 

“Daso’s condition gets worse a day after, she started vomiting afterwards and we rushed her to the hospital, where she was admitted and has been receiving treatment”

Health workers at the Pediatric Unit disclosed the effect of poor environmental hygiene on children.

The Chief Nursing Officer In-charge of the Pediatric Unit, General Hospital Biu, Garba Ibrahim said; “poor environmental hygiene can expose children under five to bacteria causing diseases like diarrhoea and vomiting, gastroenteritis, typhoid, malaria, dysentery among other diseases.” 

The medical personnel added that “Children are at risk of being affected by poor sanitation or personal hygiene because their immune systems are weak and cannot fight or get rid of contaminants that enter their body”.

A volunteer health worker in ZaraMiringa, who works at the Pediatric Unit, General Hospital Biu, Abubakar Salihu said “most of the parents in that area are ignorant of the effect of poor hygiene, because of the amount of recklessness on children’s hygiene and how they pay less attention to their environment can only be described as something done out of ignorance”. 

Dirty streets and poorly constructed soakaway system. U Photo credit: Rukayya/ThT

Mr Abubakar said to reduce the recurrence of the outbreaks the community had once started a periodic sanitation work in ZaraMiringa but was later abandoned. 

“As community members, we all once agreed on coming out to sanitize our surroundings, but later the community members abandoned the work, which our children are still suffering and dying from its effect”.

Umar Malgwi, an environmental health worker who heads the Zonal Health Office in Biu  General Hospital explains that despite the yearly recurrence of diarrhoea outbreaks, the government has continued to provide facilities to aid environmental hygiene.   

“We go out for inspection across Biu Town and its environs, and Government is doing its part by providing drainages and ensuring proper environmental hygiene, through the house-to-house sensitization visit under Primary Health Care Unit, but unfortunately, people are not complying and making proper use of the drainages. 

“The people would create a disposal area in inappropriate places that if left unchecked become hazardous to everyone, not only the children”. 

“Community leaders in areas like ZaraMiringa, are advised to help the government by forming sanitation groups and also help in educating people on the effect of indiscriminate refuse disposal”.

A map of Biu town pinpointing the location of Zaramiringa

Ishaku Yerima, who is the officer in charge of Food and Water Sanitation at the Ministry of Health Zonal Office Biu, said:  “dumping ground scan serves as a breeding place for mosquitoes, flies and even rodents that carry and spread bacteria on foods and waters that are kept uncovered”. 

“During the raining season, the flow of water can also carry bacteria from one source to another, which is why the water in communities like ZaraMiringa is highly contaminated, because of the disposal of refuse, open defecation, improperly disposed carcasses of dead animals among other things in the waterways”. 

Mr Yerima called on the people of the area to take proper care of their children. He emphasized that “parents should make sure their children wash their hands before and after going to the toilet, food and water should be kept covered and in a clean container”.

Unicef data shows that contaminated water and poor sanitary conditions increase vulnerability to water-borne diseases, which leads to the deaths of more than 70,000 children under five annually in Nigeria. 

Edited by Abdulkareem Haruna
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