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Published On: Fri, May 9th, 2014

Chibok 200+: Health matters arising

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Missing-Chibok-GirlsBy Lawrennce Wakdet

While the search for the abducted Chibok schoolgirls is going on, the outpouring of emotions and rallies nationwide makes me recoil into my shell. I am totally at sea on how this could be resolved, to get back our girls back and safe. I shudder to think if my daughter was the one of the girls, and I, her ‘Superman’ dad could only but watch helplessly as she cows under the watchful eyes of the trigger-happy villains.

For almost three (3) weeks, these girls remain abducted. Under duress and with no prior preparation, these innocent ones were guiled into believing the camouflage–bearing men were there saviours, only to cruelly learn they were their captors. Then, as a public health practitioner, I realize that there are currently more grievous and more hazardous issues at stake. The nozzles of the gun may not spit fire but the world of microorganisms and diseases would kill these girls faster than Shekau can squeeze the trigger. From a health perspective, if these girls were released now, all of them would, and should be moved, without further delay to the Emergency Units of Teaching Hospitals. Why do I say so? Do not just rubbish my thoughts as mere ‘imaginations’ but are as realities of what the girls are going through in hell right now.

To set the ball rolling, these girls are all virtually teenagers. The youngest could be 10 and the oldest 19. They were all roused in the middle of the night, with no proper dressing for what will follow. Imagine the cold weather of Borno at night and the extreme heat at daytime. The harsh weather would expose several of them to colds and catarrh, pneumonia and many respiratory tract infections. Imagine further, in extreme cases, there is an asthmatic patient. Exposure to allergic substances or weather would trigger an asthmatic attack, presented with severe wheezing, breathlessness and even coma.

How about the open place where they are all huddled up together? In this heat, any small outbreak of meningitis could spell doom for these angels. What is the hygiene of the water they drink? I don’t think these less-than-honourable men would be kind enough to buy bottled or sachet water for them or cook good food. Even if they are held in some warehouse, well water may well be their only source of drinking water. Can we talk about the water borne diseases they could suffer such as dysentery, typhoid and cholera? How devastating these microbes can be when these poor girls with compromised immunity battle them!

Malaria. The greatest killer more than HIV. It would be a festival for mosquitoes. God help our girls especially if the female anopheles mosquito bearing Plamodium falciparum hover around there. They would suffer unimaginable bouts of malaria fever, malaise, fatigue, anaemia, just name them. To make matters worse, no medications would be afforded them. These are life-threatening matters. The guerilla terrorists would definitely have some sort of medical care for themselves but I doubt if they would care to share.

These girls, as girls would, would naturally be fashion conscious, no matter how little. I mean before their capture. Now to even take their bath would almost be anathema to their captors. They could be allowed to wash their faces and prop up their looks. How about nature’s hidden crevices (downloaded from their creator) so susceptible to candidiasis and scabies? How about the dermatological or skin manifestations due to the allergies of unkempt places or unwashed bodies? Again, who would afford them a simple antiseptic bath, to keep the micro and macro parasites at bay? The bites, stings, the allergies and even the annoying flies hovering above the head can make one go beserk.

We are talking about girls who are in their teens. These are in their reproductive ages, some barely entering puberty. Nobody dares to explain to the naïve ones what menses mean but if they are supposed to be writing WAEC, they must have been menstruating for a while. Who supplies them with sanitary pads? Even make-shift tissue paper or clothes indigent women use, where can they be found? Nature abhors vacuum. Either the girls bleed uncontrollably or improvise any dirty clothes to manage the bleeding. That further endangers them to further infections.

Imagine spending sleepless nights? Insomnia creeps in. Anxiety, despair, fear, all the negative emotions plague the mind. Mental health comes in: depression, psychosis, delusion, hallucinations of unfathomable evil perpetrated before their very eyes. This sends one into delirium and even dementia. Unfortunately, it is not a one-off event. Scenes of violence and exploitation are so dehumanizing to make one psychologically deranged. Just the use of a whip on a student’s back would send chills down ones spine, not to mention unimaginable torture to girls picked out of the lot. I cringe in horror.

I can see that some girls got bruised from the manhandling and some had cuts while trying to escape. Open wounds bring in staphyloccus and rusted iron cuts expose one to tetanus. How many of the girls, heralded through thorny bushes and hideouts, ruffled into and out of transient houses and uncompleted buildings, came out unscathed?

In respect for the grieving parents and families, I would not venture into matters of sexual abuse which can lead to a host of infections, worst of all, with no treatment or prophylaxis. I shudder to think of the consequences of forced marriage.

If I had one sentence for Shekau, it would be this: ALLOW THESE GIRLS RECEIVE MEDICAL ATTENTION. The International Community, the Federal Ministry of Health and the Red Cross must brainstorm on how Boko Haram would allow its own specified health personnel to have unhindered access and offer medical service to these needy girls. Easier said than done but I am getting hysterical thinking of a way out of this quagmire.

Lawrence Wakdet is a pharmacist and public health practitioner at the Institute of Human Virology, Abuja.


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