What is happening in Gashua now sounds similar to the substance of Albart Camus’ 1947 novel “The Plague.” Just like the town at the centre of the plot of Camus’ work Gashua is also facing a plague. Not fictional but real and devastating. Renal failure appears to be on rampage in Gashua town.
Much of what is known about Gashua, an urban town in Yobe state is its remoteness, harsh weather and its infamous prison. That prison was used by the then military regime in late 1980’s and 1990’s to incarcerate famous activists. Late renown lawyer and activist Gani Fawehinmi had times in Gashu’a prison. But there is more to Gashua then these. It is a town blessed with large and long stretch of Yobe river. The river provides life. Fishing, irritation farming and bustling business activities have been thriving in this town for ages. The people are hardworking and enterprising - making the town attractive all those who want to thrive from across the country and beyond. Gashua is a mini centre of business on northward part of Yobe state.
Development came with expansion - very rapid expansion, especially in terms of population growth and growing need for basic social services.
As far back as 1960’s Gashua had an urbane and enlightened traditional ruler Late Mai Umar Suleiman who laid the foundation for successes in education, healthcare, business and farming. The reign of Late Mai Saleh Suleiman was also glorious. At a point, in the past Gashua had the best water supply system in the whole region.
But this town is now confronted by a disaster. High cases of renal failure has been terminating lives and putting many at risk. The statistics are born jarring. Data collected shows that from January to October 2018 up to 467 cases were recorded in medical facilities across Gashua. At least 85% of people with cases kidney ailment at Yobe State Teaching Hospital are from Gashua. While 80% of those in Federal Medical Centre Nguru are also from Gashua. Governor of Yobe state Alhaji Ibrahim Geidam deserves commendation for providing world class medical facility that is Yobe State Teaching Hospital, which eased the pain of people suffering from renal failure - who in the past had to be shuttling all the way to University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital for routine dialysis.
People and community leaders have been asking; what really is the cause? And how can lives be rescued? Finding answers to these question has started with a very impressive voluntary effort of a youths group called Bade Emirate Youths Initiative for Development. These young men have taken it upon themselves to reach out to elders, health specialists and other community leaders in trying to find a solutions to the problem. They organized a town hall meeting last month in Gashua - and brought together traditional rulers, community leaders, business men, medical doctors and other health workers. The gathering agreed on ways to address staggering rise in renal failure, assisting those already affected with medical care and devising a robust public enlightenment programme. The emphasis now is on prevention. The current Emir Mai Abubakar Umar Suleiman has been demonstrating leadership by supporting and making himself available in deriving this youths initiative to address the problem.
The question is; why the rise in renal failure? How can it be tamed? The youths initiative to find answer to these crucial life-and-death questions is also thinking outside the box by emphasizing prevention and support for those already affected. This initiative involves bringing in Ulama and Imam’s of Juma’at Mosques; who will be enlightened by specialists on how they can educate their congregations on prevention.
Wherever a plague breaks out as shown in Albert Camus’ famous 1947 novel “The Plague” there is always a ‘blame game.’ Some blamed lack of water for the problem. Other put the blame on lack of proper and empirical research to determine the causes. Others attributed high cases of renal failure in Gashua to use of deadly chemicals to rapidly ripen fruits. Some say the problem is rampant because some use pesticides to preserve smoked fish or beans. The speculations are many on the causes. But the good side of it all is that it is not all ending up with endless blame game. The people of Gashua are taking action. Young people have taken up the challenge to find solutions. Some are suggesting provision of rapid and sustained health outreach across Bade Local Government. For others part of the solution is in provision of dialysis facilities in Gashua. There are also calls for massive enlightenment on the dangers of wanton use of unrefined traditional and herbal concoctions.
Again, despite growing impact of renal failure the people of Gashua and particularly the young men behind Bade Youths Initiative for Development who took up the challenge have shown resilience. Like the people of Oran in Albert Camus’ novel “The Plague” in 1940’s the people of Gashua are coming to grip with the rising renal failure - the people are now doing everything possible to fight the plague. What the people deserved now is support in terms of research, public health enlightenment and support for those who are currently grappling with the pain coupled with high cost of dialysis and drugs.
*Isa Sanusi, is a Communication Specialist based in Abuja.