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40 children die as measles scourge in Bayelsa worsens

By Samuel Oyadongha
Yenagoa— Attempts to contain the spread of the outbreak of measles ravaging some communities in Southern Ijaw local government area of Bayelsa State may have suffered a setback, as no fewer than forty children have reportedly lost their lives to the ailment, with several others in critical condition.

The affected communities include Angiama, Oporoma, Ikebiri, Korokorosei, Opokpotuwari, Umbugbene, and Oweikoroghe with Ondewari being the worst hit. Vanguard recalls that the outbreak of the epidemic was first reported in January at Oweikoroghe in which twenty five children were sent to their early graves, prompting the state Ministry of Health to deploy health personnel to the area.

Also, a non-governmental outfit, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), otherwise known as Doctors Without Border, responded to the distress situation and deployed its personnel to the remote community to contain the spread.

The latest scourge, which also prompted Environmental Rights Action, ERA/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, to dispatch its Bayelsa team to the area, has reached an epidemic proportion as children within the ages of two and four years are reportedly dying daily in the town.

Lamenting the sad turn of event, the Secretary of Ondewari community, Mr. Tontiemotei Yeiyei, who spoke to the ERA Field Coordinator, Alagoa Morris, accompanied by some newsmen, said “I am over forty years and I have spent a greater part of my life in this town. But I must confess that we have not experienced this kind of situation before.”

“It is not as if we have not had other health situations that were overwhelming, there was a time we experienced cholera outbreak. But in all, we have not seen this type that has claimed the lives of many children. “Just within two months, this community alone has lost about forty children between the ages of two and four years.

It has reached an epidemic level I must say. And the situation is beyond us. As you may be aware, we just buried a corpse this morning. We have been burying dead children every other day, sometimes two in a day.” Tracing the genesis of the contagious ailment in their community he said, “the disease was first noticed in neighbouring Okpotuwari just across the river. And because we have some chemists in this community the people of Okpotuwari brought their infected children here to get drugs and treatment. And all of a sudden our children were stricken by the disease.

The symptoms started spreading from house to house and, after a few deaths were recorded, we sought for help by reaching out to the local government authorities. Unfortunately they are yet to respond positively. They only came here to take records of the dead ones and those infected and left.

That was in February. Instead of coming down with drugs to arrest the situation, nothing was done by the local government authorities. “The only group of health officers who came here with drugs, I suspect, were those from the World Health Organisation (WHO). And because even this set of health officers arrived late in the evening, they managed to immunize just few children who were infected.

That was also in February, the same day the local government record taker came. Since then we have not received any assistance from anywhere. And the situation is worse than when those health personnel visited the community.” Also lamenting his loss, Mr. Tensi popularly called Marle, said “I am a speedboat driver.

I heard of the illness of one of my children about three years old, and I had to come to see things for myself and assist my wife in tackling the problem. “I came home from Yenagoa on March 2, 2010. Unfortunately the child died right before me two days later.

Although I have taken it philosophically as part of life, but I must say it is not easy to watch your child die, it’s not easy; it is painful to see these innocent children die like that…” Contacted, the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Azipabu Eruani, though could not confirm the latest outbreak said health officials have been sent to the area to ascertain the veracity of the claim.

But the ERA team led by its Field Coordinator, Alagos Morris which visited the impacted communities said since the tasking of drawing the needed attention to the impacted communities and taking the first steps to arrest the situation falls squarely on the Southern Ijaw local government area officials urgent steps should be taken to set the right machinery in place to stop the death of children in the communities.

He also pleaded that functional health centres stocked with drugs and personnel be provided for the rural dwellers to take care of their health and prevent child mortality among others adding that health personnel posted to communities who are not at their duty posts should be disciplined according to the Civil Service Rules.

By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa Minister of State for Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe yesterday reassured the people of the Niger Delta of the preparedness of the federal government to develop the region saying the report of Technical Committee on the Niger Delta popularly known as Ledum Mittee led committee report is already being implemented.

Elder Orubebe in a paper entitled “The Niger Delta: The Critical Now” delivered at the Second International Conference on Natural Resources, Security and Development in the Niger Delta” organised by the Department of Political Science, Niger Delta University in collaboration with the Centre for Applied Environmental Research, University of Missouri- Kansas City USA in Yenagoa said though the white paper on the report was yet to be made public the federal had commenced the implementation of some of the salient aspects of the report.

The minister who was represented by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Ekenwan Akwagbe said this informed the federal government endorsement of the proposal of the ministry to award contract for the construction of a coastal road of 731 km running from Calabar through the coastline to Ondo State and unto Lagos. His words, “As a Niger Deltan, I am aware of one critical question that the people have been asking for sometime now.

It is the question of the White Paper on the report of the Technical Committee on Niger Delta otherwise called Ledum Mittee led Committee Report. “I can assure everyone here present that in as much as the Federal Government would release the White Paper on this report: it has also commenced the implementation of some salient aspects of the report.

For instance the administration has fully endorsed the proposal of the Ministry of Niger Delta to award a contract for the construction of a coastal road of 731 km running from Calabar through the coastline to Ondo State and unto Lagos.”

According to him, the road project would begin the process turning the Niger Delta into the economic hub of not just Nigeria alone but the entire West African sub region. “Development agencies are in talks with the Federal Government to handle this project which billed to commence this year,” he further explained adding that the project and the proposed coastal rail line project when completed would opened up the entire region for several socio-economic activities.

He noted that the job and training fair organised by the ministry last July was also an enactment of the aspects of the recommendations of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, the objective of which was to assemble employers in order to dialogue with them on areas of assistance in creating job placements for the youths the ministry intends to train.

Continuing he said, “the Ministry has received complete designs of road projects such as the Warri-Burutu-Forcados-Ogulagha road, Tungbo-Ekeremor-Ndoro-Agge, Ekeremor roads in Delta and Bayelsa States respectively….In addition, plans to build ultra modern towns in each of the nine states of the Niger Delta have reached advanced stage and these towns will have all the facilities that any modern town anywhere in the world has.

“Furthermore contracts for working out ways and means of cleaning up oil pollution sites across the length and breath of the Niger Delta have been awarded to consultants. When these consultants finally turn in their works, each stakeholder in the region such as the federal, state and local governments and the oil multinational corporations would be assigned areas of responsibilities so that everyone is included in the cleaning up of the environment for a more productive and meaningful habitation by the people. “These and many more are recommendations contained in the Technical Committee report which government has already started implementing

. This is not to say however that the federal government will not after all publish a white paper on the report. I can make bold to say this administration is honest, dedicated and committed to the Niger Delta question.

If it were not so, I would not be standing here to tell you. I am standing here on behalf of this government, I am standing here on behalf of my very humble self because I was born in the creeks of the Niger Delta and grew up in those creeks, drinking from the waters and bathing in them.

“Like most of you, I am an embodiment of the Niger Delta. So is the Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

The Niger Delta pain that you feel, the Acting President and I feel. We cannot therefore be in government at this time of history as a people in Nigeria to deceive you. To do so implies that we are not prepared to return to our roots in the creeks.”

He however pleaded with the people of the region to be patient with the federal government in addressing the myriad of problems confronting the region saying if previous administration had shown the will and started tackling these hydra headed problems, perhaps, we would not have heard gun shots and explosions in the creeks, Kenule Saro Wiwa would have been saved, Gbaramatu, Soku and Odi among others would have been spared.

“We are taking out time to plan well so that a solid foundation is laid for people who may come after us to build on. We have to plan well because if the foundation is faulty, the building and its occupants would be in danger,” he assured.


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