*Mortuary attendant pile bodies on over-the-roof platform
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
THE flood that caused havoc across the country has sacked the General Hospital, Patani in Patani Local Government Area of Delta State, forcing officials to stack corpses evacuated from the morgue on an emergency platform that had been inventively constructed between the ceiling and roof of the endangered health institution.
Delta State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Joseph Otumara, confirmed, yesterday, that several other government hospitals were affected by the flood, including the one in Patani, but said he had not received any report concerning the movement of corpses.
However, coordinator of the Rural Health Africa Initiative, RAHI, a non-governmental organization, which is on ground, catering for the victims of the flood in Patani and surrounding communities, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, told Sunday Vanguard, “We saw corpses from the morgue of the Patani hospital affected by the flood floating on the waters, some were standing leg deep in the flood, and others in different awkward position”.
He added, “This was at the initial stage of the flood, but I must commend the mortuary attendant and other officials of the hospital; they understood the effect of the corpses that were washed away by the flood from the morgue, what I saw is not a mortuary, but they were embalming corpses there. They salvaged the corpses from the flood and loaded them up on an over-the –roof platform”.
Ekiyor, who spoke at the RAHI Relief Camp for Flood Victims, situated at New Town, Patani, along the East-West Road, continued: “My concern, among other things, is that there are many shallow graves in this area, and, besides drowned animals like dogs and goats, other dead bodies might have been dug up by the rampaging flood.
“Some of the villagers have not only been fishing in this contaminated body of water, but also cooking with it. It was not until we started educating them on the dangers of what they were doing that they stopped, because they took the floodwater as part of their normal river and were washing with it, fishing inside, bathing and cooking with it”.
The RAHI coordinator pointed out that if not that the mortuary attendant in Patani hospital acted quickly, the floating corpses from the morgue would have been decomposing by now and formed part of the mass of the floodwater that the people were cooking and bathing with.
“This is not a story, RAHI witnessed it, we have been here for more 22 days, there is no other group attending to the health of the victims of the disaster in this area, but us. We also know the kind of cases that the patients are presenting; there are more than 3,000 flood victims in our camp. We feed them and attend to their health problems.
Commissioner Otumara, who opined that there might not be an epidemic because of the measures the state government had put in place, said, “Many government hospitals in Patani, Bomadi, Ogriagbane and other communities were affected by the flood, but are we concerned, first and foremost, by the safety of the people. So, we moved them to government relief camps, there are about 20 of them, where doctors, nurses and other health officials attend to them”.
Specifically on the General Hospital, Patani, he said, “The Ministry of Health is not aware of the development you are talking about. I am not even sure the hospital there has a mortuary”.
Told by Sunday Vanguard that there was a functional morgue in the hospital and the corpses were embalmed and kept there, he said, “Well, no official report was made to the ministry”.
A source hinted our reporter, “The Patani hospital is an old structure and the way flood dealt with the hospital, the health institution is likely to cave in if any attempt is made to use it without major reconstruction. And that will mean that Patani may not have General Hospital for sometime”.
The health commissioner admitted that because of the cut-off of the East-West Road by flood and submerging of the Patani hospital, the state government did not open a relief camp in Patani, but it was collaborating with RAHI in the treatment of victims, as the Ministry of Health had sent drugs to the relief camp run by the NGO.
He said the government ensured that there was proper sanitation and handling of health problems at the 20 relief camps and with the measure of success achieved, he remained optimistic that there might not be an epidemic.
Besides, Otumara said it was initially rowdy in the camps because of the sheer population, but the ministry had been able to combat a lot of diseases by immunizing the children and administering polio vaccination.
The commissioner also said that public health educators from the Ministry of Health had been drafted to affected communities to carry out enlightenment and educate the people on the correct practices to adopt in a situation like the one at hand.
“For instance, people were defecating inside the floodwater but they have stopped it following the enlightenment campaign of the ministry”, he added.
“There is a standing instruction in the camps that if anybody coughs and notices blood, he should report to the health officials, but if the person opts to hide it, anybody who observed it should alert the health personnel so that they will handle it.
“We are also conducing general screening and making plans to handle cases of tuberculosis and cholera in the event that there is an outbreak. We have already ordered for cholera vaccines and like I said, basic hygiene is being observed in the 20 camps because we know that is what will solve the problem”
Otumara said that all treatment carried out in the relief camps were free of charge and, since the governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, had set up a Post-Flood Committee, he was sure government would do more and committee would recommend other ways of assisting the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs.