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Abuja residents ignore health warnings, buy insecticides
Hawkers of killer-insecticides.

By Ezra Ukanwa, Abuja

AMONG other environmental insecticidal threats, malaria has been one of the most life-threatening diseases caused by parasites and transmitted through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

This insecticidal invasion is not only a problem peculiar to Nigeria but also in major African countries, and, sadly Nigeria accounts for 31.9% malaria deaths worldwide.

Read Also: World Malaria Day: WHO tasks Nigeria, others on new strains, drug, insecticide resistance

While some see malaria as a major challenge that must be treated on a weekly or monthly basis, or however the case may be, others have spent years and resources grappling with bed-bugs, wood-boring beetles, rats, cockroaches among others, particularly those in the suburbs with unmanaged gutters now turned movement channels for rodents into homes.

This, however, explains the growing rate at which sales of locally made insecticides otherwise known as ‘Otapiapia’ and sniper, among other harmful agro-chemicals, have become a common sight and lucrative business in many parts of Abuja, despite stern warnings of adverse health consequences by concerned agencies of the Federal Government.

What is now worrisome is how some of these products have, overtime, been turned to suicidal tools for which some young Nigerians have used to take their own lives.

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, had announced stricter measures to curtail the use of Sniper (Dichlorvos or 2,2-dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate) in homes to end the abuse of the insecticide which, in recent times, had been associated with suicides in Nigeria.

NAFDAC cautioned that the products hurt the applicators and the environment they are applied in.

Findings by SUNDAY VANGUARD show that most of these locally made insecticides have no NAFDAC registration number and their production details are unknown, yet they are supposed to be regulated products.

More findings also reveal that most of the producers of these locally made insecticides do not have the basic knowledge of the health danger associated with the use of chemicals.

Despite these, SUNDAY VANGUARD reports that traders of these locally-made insecticides are mostly seen in Abuja road traffic with their products heavily decorated on their bodies, moving in between vehicles for sale of these products; particularly during the evening hours of the day.

Our correspondent, who visited popular Nyanya Bridge in Abuja and Mararaba Junction, gathered that these marketers go as far as arranging dead, dried rats on a long rope as practical testimonials of what their products could do to rodents and insecticides at homes if purchased.

Our correspondent, however, monitored how these marketers go about the sale of their products in Abuja metropolis, and discovered that a good number of them sell these ‘killer products’ at about 5pm at various bus stops or markets, specifically to office workers and traders among others who were seen returning from their workplaces.

During a visit to popular car parks in Nyanya Bridge and Mararaba Junction, residents and passers-by who spoke to SUNDAY VANGUARD averred that they usually purchase these unregulated products because of their effectiveness in clearing their environment of unwanted creatures than notable insecticide brands.

When asked why they patronized the locally made insecticides more, they maintained that the locally-made insecticides are more affordable and are best used to rid the environment of mosquitoes.

They, however, displayed ignorance of the health danger.

A 43-year-old garri trader in Nyanya market, Mrs. Roseline Salami, said she had been using ‘Otapiapia’ to kill mosquitoes, cockroaches and other insects at home for over a decade.

She said that prior to the time she began to patronize locally made insecticides, she had tested products from top pharmaceutical stores, but always ended up disappointed.

She maintained that with a little mixture of kerosene in the locally made insecticides, unwanted creeping and flying creatures steered clear of her house.

Her words: “I live in a waterlogged area and mosquitoes are a major problem here. Sometimes, I used to mix it with kerosene to make it stronger. And, when I do, it helps calm the environment.”

On the application and to make it effective, she had this to say: “I usually don’t apply it when the family is around.

“We all are marketers, so when we are about to leave the house, I tell my youngest daughter to spray it at every corner of the house while we shut the windows and doors.

“We would leave it to saturate the house all through the day until evening.

“On our return from the market, the whole house would have been cleansed of every mosquito around.”

The grandmother continued: “I am not aware of any health risk associated with the use of these insecticides.

“The only challenge I have using them is that during spraying, they bring out water from my eyes and make me have catarrh but after sometime, it will stop.

“But why I like using them in killing mosquitoes, cockroaches and other insects in my house is because they are very cheap.

“With N150, you can buy the one in a small plastic container that can last for a few days.

“The ones in big containers that will last for weeks are sold for between N300 and N500.

“But with N500, you cannot buy any insecticide manufactured by any of these big companies. You can see that the locally made ones are very affordable and economical.”

Nothing wrong

Another customer, Mrs. Sherifat Arowolo, said she saw nothing wrong with the use of Otapiapia since it is efficient, affordable and readily available.

She said that all through the years of usage, herself and those around her have not experienced any health challenge as a result of using the locally made insecticides.

According to her, some of the local insecticides had, over the years, helped her do away with stubborn bed bugs in the house after years of trying NAFDAC registered products for the purpose.

Her words: “Otapiapia has been a very useful insecticide used to treat my house of mosquitoes.

“For my children, I have suffered and wasted money to treat malaria for many years.

“All those times, I always fumigate the house with all these pharmaceutical products but we still at night get bitten.”

Mercy Odeh, an Abuja nurse, said that despite government warnings, she still use Otapiapia but that she is very careful not to allow her kids to get into the house less than an hour after spraying.

She accused NAFDAC of always issuing warnings but never recommending any products, so Nigerians, especially the uneducated, can be properly guided.

She said: “We use Otapiapia in my house and it has been very effective. We majorly use it to kill mosquitoes, and other insects in the house. Of course I understand that it has health dangers but what can we do? Allow mosquitoes to deal with us?

“We use it in a special way so that it won’t affect our health.

“For example, we don’t just spray it into the air, we spray it at strategic places in the house and then we lock up the whole house. Nobody remains inside. When you stay in there is when you will get affected.

“When we return, we would still perceive the smell but it won’t be as strong as before and then the environment will be free from mosquitoes.

“NAFDAC is always condemning this product and that product, they should simply come out and direct Nigerians on which is which so we can all be safe.”

Defiant note

Mrs. Ruth Taiwo and other users who also spoke to our correspondent said though they could not vouch for the safety of these locally made insecticides, they will, however, continue to use them until they could afford the well-established brands.

“I cannot allow mosquitoes to bite me and my children and at the end of the day, I will be running around treating them for malaria when I can use these insecticides that are cheaper than antimalarials to kill them”, Taiwo said.

“We hardly suffer from malaria in my house because we don’t give mosquitoes any breeding space. I spray it every night in all the rooms before we go to bed. About the health risk of constant exposure, I don’t know of any.

“But all I know is that sometimes, after spraying them, you start coughing and sneezing, especially if you buy those ones that are made with very strong chemicals.”

Production

A producer who preferred anonymity told our correspondent that she learnt the trade of producing local insecticides in three days from a friend.

She declined to give details of the names of chemicals used in producing her products which have no labels on them.

“I am not ready to talk to you much about it because I am not registered with NAFDAC. I don’t want anybody to come after me”, she said.

“I am not the only one producing locally made insecticides without being registered by the government. With N5, 000, you can learn the trade.

“I am into it to make ends meet. And a lot of people are using them because they are very effective in killing mosquitoes and cockroaches and are also affordable.

“Before, I had labels on my products. But the reason why I am not using labels again is that the cost of production has gone up and everything is now expensive”.

Lethal effects – Experts

Giving further insight into the health risks associated with locally made insecticides, concerned experts have warned that, except urgent steps are taken by government through relevant regulatory agencies, unrestricted sale and indiscriminate use of locally-made insecticides may lead to widespread cancer, kidney infection and other ailments among residents.

A chemical scientist, Anchor University, Lagos, Agoro Kennedy, said most of the locally made insecticides were derivatives of pyrethroid and pyrethrin chemicals and other chemical components which, when inappropriately mixed, particularly in high concentration were capable of damaging vital organs including the brain and the respiratory system.

Dr. John Owoeye, a lecturer in the Department of Anatomy, University of Ibadan, said prolonged exposure to fumes of these insecticides can damage organs of the body such as the liver, kidney and the lungs.

Dichlorvos, traded under names as Nuvan, Sniper and Otapiapia, is used to control insects on crops, household and store products, and also to treat external parasitic infections in farms.

Spraying Otapiapia without good ventilation before going in to sleep, he said, would expose humans to its inhalation and absorption through the skin and its accumulated negative consequences.

His words: “It is worthwhile to note that the effect of dichlorvos was more deleterious on the liver than the lung despite the same duration of exposure.

“When people burn mosquito coil or spray Otapiapia and then go to sleep inside such a room, they are inhaling the gaseous part of that dichlorvos, the insecticide that is to kill mosquitoes.

“Apart from its adverse effect on kidney functions, the insecticide has a proven lethal effect on sperm production. It impairs sperm production in the testes.”

To limit exposure to local insecticides, he suggested the use of face masks while applying the chemical, hand-washing after application of the chemical as well as change of clothes.

According to him, it would also be prudent to educate the populace on the proper use of insecticides at home.

Deaths

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 12.6 million people die annually as a result of living in an unhealthy environment.

“Environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation, contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries”, WHO said.

NAFDAC warning

On efforts by government to regulate the use of locally made pesticides, NAFDAC Resident Media Consultant, Sayo Akinola, told SUNDAY VANGUARD: “On a regular basis, our enforcement directorate is always out there looking for those faceless marketers with killer products, and any time we get hold of those individuals, we do not hesitate to storm the place, seal it up and get them arrested and prosecuted.

Akinola, however, lamented the dangerous trend in the sales of Otapiapia, while urging the general public to work alongside the agency to rid the street of “faceless marketers with killer products.”

He said, “I cannot say NAFDAC is not aware of those who are making them. That is why we always ask members of the public because NAFDAC cannot do it all alone. It is just like we are asking security operatives that, yes, they are the only people to ensure our security, it is a business of all and for everybody.

“That is why we always appeal to members of the public to speak up if they know anywhere they are operating, because we cannot be everywhere, and because these people that engage in this indiscriminate activities are not spirit – they are members of the public, they live amongst us so just let us know and you will see what happens next.”

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