Journalism of Courage

In Ruga, Abuja, dozens of children go blind as community raises alarm

Edwina Ogiri

Everyone in this small settlement in Abuja knew about the boys and girls who go blind. Then they found out why

Per Second News

Ruga is a small dusty remote illegal settlement of about 5,000 residents, few kilometers away from the city gate in Abuja, everyone had known about the children there who go blind. They also knew that a lot of other boys and girls have trouble seeing.

It usually begins with swelling, reddening, itching, discharge, followed by blurry sight in one or both eyes and then ‘blindness’. This is the predicament of more than 20 children in Ruga, Abuja.


Living in ignorance 

Two-year-old Aliyu Buhari found it difficult to see without squinting his eyes, when he was a year old. Little did his parents know that he was exhibiting the symptoms of an eye infection.

“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, narrated.

Aliyu, a local farmer, who lives in a shack with his wife and eight children, also added that two of his children are also suffering from the same eye infection as Buhari, even though they have not gone blind.

Another case was one-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim, with whose mother, Baratu Ibrahim, Per Second News had an interaction with.

Baratu said she woke up one day only to find her son with reddening and swollen eyes with discharge of smudges. She quickly bought eye drop from a nearby patent store which she administered on him.

“There was no improvement in my son’s condition. In Panic, I resorted to the use of salt water solution to clean his eyes, even at that the eyes still shut completely,” the poor mother narrated.

Asides Buhari and Mohammed, so many other children in the sprawling settlement were also going blind.

“There are many children with this problem here,” says Mark Okere, who runs a makeshift school along with his wife, Chinwe Okere, who is a trained teacher.

“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,” Okere explained.

According to him, before the intervention about eight of his pupils were discovered to have developed strange eye infections.

Several children in the community already had the defects which were silently destroying their sights, however, the extent of the infections became known when little Buhari was taken to Kaduna for treatment.


Riga Children affected by blindness


Following the discovery of the ‘epidemic’ in Ruga, several interventions were embarked upon to rescue the children.

Vaccine Network for Disease Control

The Coordinator of Vaccine Network for Disease Control, Chika Offor, had gone with her team to the community for an outreach programme, where they met little Aliyu Buhari. She supported Aliyu’s family to take the child to the Federal Medical Centre, Jabi, after which they were referred to Kaduna.

“This community is one of our adopted communities. We have a lot of interventions that we do here; women empowerment, health intervention, health education and other things.

“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,” Offor explained.

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.

“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. By this week we will take the children to Asokoro hospital eye clinic for analysis, to know the exact issue. This community is facing many challenges and the are endless,” she stated.


Furthermore, Offor alerted the Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), and also sent a letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Ministry of health intervention

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 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, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Okolo Oteri, some of the eye infections were as a result of untreated allergies; untreated refractive error; congenital glaucoma; optic neuritis; complicated cataract and allergic conjunctivitis.

Dr. Oteri further revealed that two-year-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.

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.”

The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), were also present at the community to take soil and water samples for investigation.

Though the eye disease affecting the children of Ruga community seems to have been contained, only a sustained improvement on the existing social amenities in the community could stave off the problem permanently.

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