Nigeria’s number 1 disease

Sam Eferaro This WeekSam Eferaro
As the remains of mama Rebecca Eferaro, my mum was being lowered into the grave penultimate Saturday, some pictures and memories of her very active life as a mother flashed through my mind in torrents. Some brought a little grin on my face while some made my eyes well with tears.
The first picture was that of me as a little boy trying to take a piece of meat my from her pot. She caught me struggling with the pot in the cupboard, gave me a little spank on the bottom and gently warned me to steer clear of anything that does not belong to me or at least seek the owner’s permission before touching. The message sank till today.
Then the sad pictured came flashing just as it happened almost 44 years ago on the street of Mende, Maryland, Lagos. It was so vivid. Mother was carrying my 17-year old sister on her back, weeping, begging the girl not to die and appealing to no one in particular to come to her aid. The herbalist had just “discharged” the girl with the verdict that the gods were angry.
Maybe I should start the story fron the beginning, though I’d written about the incidence some years back.
My big sister Janet came down with an “unexplained” chest pain just some few months after we lost our dad. Still grieving over the death of her dear husband, her eldest child falling sick was just too much for her so she hurriedly took the girl from her base in a village near Ibadan to meet his brother, a soldier, in Lagos. Like her, big brother also believed the chest pain was not “ordinary”, coming so soon after her father’s death so off they went to the herbalist.
Predictably, the herbalist saw the hands of witches and evil spirit at work. They must be stopped immediately with some rituals and sacrifices. Meanwhile Janet’s condition was deteriorating. After about one week, during which the poor girl was made to drink all sorts of concoction and a range of sacrifices, she became unconscious and the herbalist orderd mum to take her away. The Gods were angry and refused to be placated, he explained.
Somehow, a good Samaritan helped carry Janet to my uncles’ s house. But no one thought of taking her to the hospital. Instead, mum was directed to a spiritual church somewhere in Somolu. There, she spent another three or four days before the prophet eventually advised that she be taken to LUTH. By this time, it was just too late. My mum learnt a bitter lesson that was to remain with her till death.
Once, my younger sister, Sarah also took ill and another herbalist surfaced. This time, she washed the girl with some concoction and declared that only the spirit could save her. My mum would have none of that. “Samuel,” she yelled at me. “Take your sister to the hospital. No herbalist will kill my child again.”
We took Sarah to the hospital where she was treated for malaria. She lived to give mama a befitting burial. That was how my mother got herself cured of Nigeria’s number one disease. Pity she didn’t get the remedy until she lost her daughter.
Unfortunately, the disease is still killing more Nigerians on a daily basis. Sometimes it is shrouded in the garb of tradition or some cultural nuances. Did you hear the story of the Niger State village where lassa fever was first reported in the current outbeak? The villagers thought some souls must be sacrificed as a result of a new market there. So no one bothered that a number of the villagers were being cut down in their by prime by a disease that was not so familiar in the village. Many had died before the government got to know that Lassa fever was on the prowl.
I once told the story of a cousin who was struck by a “strange” illness that made her body swell to almost triple her normal weight. But my people had an explanation for the development. She must have had sex in the bush, a taboo that often provoke the wrath of the gods. Of course, series of sacrifices, special baths and visits to herbalists and prophets did not work until she eventually found her way to LUTH. She was diagnosed of nephrotic syndrome – a kidney disorder. After about two weeks in the hospital, the girl bounced back to life. Others were not so lucky. They were simply dispatched to the great beyond by Nigeria’s number one disease.
Remember the outbreak of Ebola? But for the media’s aggressive campaign, our number one disease would have ensured that ebola took more lives than was recorded. Remember the tale of salt water bath? Some people actually fell for it, thanks to our number one disease.
Unfortunately, our number one disease is still spreading, taking as many lives at its fancy on a daily basis. Yet, it is not recorded anywhere as our number one disease. As deadly as it is, we are yet to give it its deserved attention and take bold steps to stop it at its deadly track. No one seems to reckon with it but ignorance remains our number one disease in Nigeria. Pity my mum would no longer be able to tell the story of how it robbed her of a most prized possession.

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