•Health centre operates only 4 to 5 times a month
•Children parade village with protruded tummy, white eyes, red hair
•Govt plans borehole, renovation of dilapidated primary school
By Ike Uchechukwu
EKPENE IBIABONG—THE economic slump is taking its toll on residents, particularly children, who appear half-starved at the rustic Ekpene Ibiabong community, Odukpani Local Government Area, Cross River state, investigations by NDV has revealed. Most of the children sighted by NDV looked underfed with protruding tummies, white eyes and red hair, as if they are suffering Kwashiorkor.
Residents, mainly farmers and fishermen, who bemoaned their plight during our visit, said they could scarcely eat two square meals, adding that their situation was further complicated by the fact that they have no access to potable water and efficient health facilities.
They called on the state governor, Prof Ben Ayade, to come to their rescue, saying that the level of neglect by government has taken them 50 years backward.
At Abua Stream, the only source of drinking water in the community, NDV found that it was practically a stagnant pool, but despite that, villagers still thronged the place daily to obtain drinking water. A health official, who once worked in the area, asserted: “The water is stinking and could probably be the reason for some diseases, especially among women and children in the place.”
Our guide, a native of Ekpene, Mr. Benedict Bassey, said: ‘’We are still living in the past, I am a teacher, I know what I am telling you, you can verify .We have only one well in this community and it is in the compound of Mr. Mathias Okon .No potable drinking water, I believe that stream is not safe, especially now that we are in dry season.
“Government must as a matter of urgency come to our aid before it is too late, cholera amongst other disease is imminent in this place. Hypothetically speaking, if an outbreak like cholera or diarrhoea should occur, trust me NDV, it will kill hundreds of children before government can get here because of the bad topography, your coming to this place is a blessing, may be they see to our plight.”
Non-functional health centre: Also speaking, a community leader, Chief James Okon Nya, said there was just a one- room healthcare centre in the area, which opens four to five times in a month and sometimes less because the workers posted to the place, find it very difficult to get to Ekpene due to the deplorable state of the road.
“The heath workers try a lot by making it down here for those number of times, you (NDV) came from Calabar, and you have seen how difficult it was for you to get here, it takes passion and the grace of God for anyone posted here to even accept the letter, not to talk of coming to our community because of the bad road, we do not have road,” he lamented.
A villager, Elizabeth Nya, disclosed: “The partial functionality of the health centre in our community has also contributed to death and malnutrition because there are so many children, who have various treatable diseases, but because the health centre is barely functioning, they remain that way.”
Help on the way- Govt
Contacted, Director General, Cross River state Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr Beta Edu, said agency will collaborate with Rural Water and Sanitation Agency (RUWATSA) to dig a borehole in the community.
According to her, the agency will take its nutrition program in the state to the community, but those with severe cases would be brought to bigger healthcare facilities.
Executive Chairman, Cross River State Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Dr Stephen Odey, said the Board had concluded plans to intervene at Ekpene because of the critical condition of the community’s primary school.
He said the board, which is undertaking the renovation of over 237 schools across the state, would collaborate with the Ministry of Works to open access road to the community to enable the agency move in materials to the place.
“They would do some palliative work, government is not a one man affair, it is collective, and so we will collaborate with agencies that will make our work a success in the place,” he added.