COVID 19: Rural dwellers turn to mysterious waters for help

JULY 3, 2021

Many rural dwellers have resorted to using mysterious waters found in their communities as vaccines against the dreaded coronavirus pandemic. For the rural dwellers, the stagnant water, which appears unfit for consumption, is potent and more active against COVID-19 and other kinds of ailment than the vaccines given at the centres approved by government. Rather than spend their hard earned monies going to the vaccination centres, the villagers would rather stick to their local vaccines and use the money to feed, INNOCENT DURU reports.

 

Understandably, the discovery of COVID-19 vaccines received global applause. It raised hope that humanity was about to be free from the havoc wreaked by the pandemic. But the development appears not to have elicited an iota of excitement in many rural communities. For many of them, the apprehension that greeted the outbreak and spread of the pandemic was needless.

Long before the vaccines were discovered, the rural dwellers said they already had their own form of vaccines which they believe are more potent than the imported ones. They boastfully shunned the vaccination exercise rolled out by the government because in their view, it is a complete waste of time and resources.    At Ikija, a rural community in Oluyole Local Government Area, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, water taken from a river popularly called Omi Eridu serves as their vaccines against COVID-19 and other kinds of ailment.

The river in question is tucked deep inside the ancient community and almost covered by water hyacinth. Residents scoop water from a small portion of the river spared by water hyacinth, using a partly broken calabash dropped on the grass at the bank of the river.

“What is vaccine?” the abore (head of ritual rites), Musibau Adekambi, asked disdainfully as he led our correspondent to the river, accompanied by the chief hunter of the community and a young girl said to be a devotee of the river. The community, said to be the ancestral home of a former governor of the state, the late Lam Adesina, is dotted by mud buildings, many of which are dillapidated.

“We don’t take vaccines here in Ikija. Going to hospital is not our way of life. The water from the river is our vaccine. People were coming for treatment of malaria at the peak of the pandemic and they were receiving healings after using it,” he said gleefully as he scooped and drank from the river.

“We use the water from the river to treat all kinds of sickness, including COVID-19. If you come here with COVID-19, you will be healed. It is not by our power but by the power that was used to found this community together with the powers of the deities and the river.

“Go round the village and you will not find any sick person. The river will never allow any strange sickness to enter the community. Even if the person had contracted the sickness elsewhere, once he enters here, it will not spread to any member of the community. We would rather heal him of the sickness he came with.

“Even strangers who came to build here have had all the sicknesses in their bodies cured.”

The negative attitude of Ikija inhabitants to orthodox medicine may not necessarily be attributed to their deep attachment to tradition. Their position may have been compounded by failure of successive governments  in the state to equip and make functional a multi-million naira health centre built by their kinsman and ex- governor, the late Lam Adesina.

Findings revealed that the building, which is already dilapidating, was built in 2001 to bring healthcare closer to the people and consequently make them jettison their primitive beliefs. But failure of the project to take off sank the people deeper into their Neolithic practices and beliefs.

“That is the hospital built for us by our father. It is already overgrown with weeds. The hospitals we have are far from here. Not many people would be willing to spend money to go there.

“If this hospital were functional now, many of us would, without persuasion, go there for medical care,” a concerned resident said.

In a different part of the community is the mysterious water the people strongly uphold as a vaccine against COVID-19 and any other ailment. One of the residents, Alfa Musliudeen Adeyinka, said he strongly agreed that COVID-19 is deadly, but certainly not beyond one the mysterious water can cure.

He said: “I didn’t take the vaccine, because I don’t need it. If they bring it to my door step I will not take it. We have water that came from God, which we use to treat every sickness. We either drink it or use it to bathe. If you have COVID 19 and we give you this water to drink, you will be free from the virus.

“Immediately the pandemic broke out, we carried out a research and we were told about some local things we could use to prevent it from spreading or making one to contract it. If we had put that in the public domain, they would not have accepted it. It is injections and medications they trust.”

Unlike Adekambi, Adeyinka declined taking our correspondent to where the water was. “You can’t be allowed to take the picture. People are not allowed to go there anyhow,” he said.

Adekanmi, the abore of Ikija, dismissed likely questions that scientist could raise about the fitness of the water for consumption.

He said: “Orthodox practitioners may claim that it is not clean or healthy for consumption, but we know what it does.

“People come from different places when we are doing the festival to take the water.

“People make all manner of prayer requests when they come here and only God knows the number of children that people have been blessed with after coming here. Many of such children are abroad.”

Journeying through different rural areas in Ibadan, our correspondent came across another community where the people make use of surface water with fallen leaves buried in it as vaccine or medication against all manner of sicknesses.

Ladunni, a community in Igbo Elerin area of Lagelu Local Government Area, is bedeviled by acute infrastructural deficit. They have no power supply, toilet or basic health facility.

Their woes are compounded by the menace of herdsmen which keep them awake all night.   Ashes from burnt tyres meant to scare the herders away littered the road. Every stranger in the community is viewed with suspicion and, in fact, avoided.

But in spite of their numerous challenges, the people are happy they are blessed with natural vaccines that keep them away from sicknesses.

“We have holes in the ground that rain water falls into.  Leaves fall inside the water and that serves as medication for us. If any sick person consumes the water, he will be fine.

“That is what we consume to cure sicknesses. Even if you have COVID-19, you will be cured taking the water,” Pa Ojo Lamidi, a septuagenarian, said.

“We don’t have light. We use herb to treat ourselves and at times we buy Panadol for sick people.

“The hospital we have is far from here. Politicians promise us hospital to no avail,” he added in emotion laden voice.

Our correspondent was presented with a totally different approach to preventing or treating COVID-19 at Ibogun area of Ifo Local Government Area, Ogun State. The community, reputed as the ancestral home of many notable people from Ogun State, lacks the beauty that communities of prominent people in the society have.

Transporters avoid the road like a plague, especially when it rains. One can only imagine what the fate of the people would be in times of emergency.

Many of the residents lack water supply and often have to travel several kilometres to get water, which is a key ingredient in combating the pandemic.

“We beg for water to drink each time we run out of supply. At times, we go to neighbours to ask for a sachet of pure water. If there is no power supply to provide water through a borehole provided by a philanthropist, we would go to the stream to get water.

“Many children like me don’t go to the river again since they kill big snakes there,” 12- year-old Aisha said.

Regular hand washing is a part of the laid down COVID-19 protocols, but one can only imagine the fate of Aisha and other members of the community who have challenges getting water.

The father, Alfa Yusuf Kalumi, said he drinks Quranic verses inscribed on tablets to avert any sickness, including COVID-19.

He said: “I didn’t go for the vaccine. Whether I take it or not, I cannot have COVID-19. Each time I drink Quranic write-ups I do on a tablet, any sickness in my body will disappear.

“There is nothing that is more powerful than God. I make herbs and concoctions for people. I learnt it from my grandfather.”

Herbs as another form of vaccine

Aside from mysterious waters, many rural dwellers said they also rely on the use of herbs to treat myriads of sicknesses.

Adekambi, the abore of Ikija said: “We also use herbs to treat illnesses. Is it not herbs that they mixed with synthetic materials to make vaccines? We use pure herbs without adding anything to it for treatment.

“We use original herbs. It is the failure of people to use herbs that is causing problems for them. When they took a friend of mine to a hospital and found that he was having a particular virus and was asked to pay the sum of N150,000, I told him to come. When he came, we got some herbs and treated him within three days.

“We spent only N10,000 on the herbs we used to treat him, whereas the hospital had asked him to pay N150, 000.  He went back for a test and they wondered what he used that made him well within three days.

“We are healers here in Ikija. If someone is not destined to die, he will be fine if he comes here for treatment.”

At Abegede Village along OminAdio area of Ibadan, herbs are also majorly relied on for treating sick people. “We lack basic infrastructures including hospitals, the head of the community, TajudeenYussuf, said. , adding: “COVID 19 didn’t come here because we are using herbs.  We have not buried anybody or had anybody brought in dead from outside because of COVID 19.

“We didn’t go for vaccination. Why would we go when we are not sick?   If you go round the village you will not find our people sick because we are using herbs.”

In Ibogun, many of the villagers still rely on herbs in spite of the presence of a health centre in the community. Alfa Kalumi of Sulola community believes strongly that local herbs can take care of COVID-19.

Myths about the pandemic

In spite of massive enlightenment campaigns by the government to educate the citizens about the pandemic, many rural dwellers still hold tenaciously to what they think about the virus.

For Alfa Yussuf Kalumi, COVID-19 is not something new.

He said: “I heard the story from my grandfather that what they are calling COVID-19 is Ita Igbona. I don’t believe it is a new disease that came from China. It is not true.

“It has been in existence long before now.  It is Ita Igbona that they are calling COVID-19. It has mild and severe versions. It is the severe version that is in circulation now.

“Before now, any carrier of the severe version would die if the person was careless with it.”

He advised that anybody who has contracted the virus “should not be involved in producing local oil, must not burn cashew seed and must not stay in a hot place. You must always stay in a cold place.”

Kalumi’s position negates information given by experts locally and internationally about the pandemic. Aside information in the public domain that the virus originated from China, there is no explanation that it had existed before now.

Alimotu Oladeji, an indigene of Ikija, for instance, believes the pandemic only affects the rich. She was quick to warm up to our correspondent even when other indigenes refused to speak.

Oladeji said: “Don’t take my name to Covin 19 o,” she said jokingly as she began to speak. “We are poor people.

“It is those that are travelling abroad and to places like Mecca and em, em, what do you call it, Facebook that are being affected. We don’t travel out and can’t contract it.”

“We use herbs to treat ourselves. I know herbs for malaria and also buy them. Orthodox medicine does not cure malaria. When you take orthodox medicine in the morning to treat malaria, by evening time, it will resurface. It is herbs that can cure malaria.

“Typhoid is deadlier than COVID-19. It is a stronger version of malaria. I don’t know if it is the same sickness that came as COVID-19. We didn’t see people doing the vaccination. They didn’t tell us where they are.

“I don’t even take injection.  Even when I was still giving birth, I was not taking injection. There was a time I was pregnant and went to the hospital. When I got to the hospital, they pierced my finger to take the blood sample and I stopped going thereafter. I always give birth at home.”

Azeez Alao, an indigene of Lalupon area of Oyo State, also shared Alimotu’s belief. “I learnt it is the rich that COVID-19 was killing. I didn’t hear that it affected or killed poor people,” he said.

His wife, Fausat, feared that taking injections could make people contract the virus. She said: “I learnt some injections make people contract the virus. We heard all that on the radio. They said people should not take injections.  That made many not to take injections.

“I was afraid of going to the hospital when the virus was serious. Once they take you to the hospital and test you, they will say you have coronavirus and should be whisked to an isolation centre.

“If we sneeze a little bit, they will say we have coronavirus. Because of that, we avoided hospital and resorted to treating ourselves at home. If the vaccination will not give the coronavirus, I will take it.”

Poverty, lack of information about vaccination centres discourage interested villagers from taking vaccines

Notwithstanding the widespread apathy among rural dwellers to taking the COVID-19 vaccine, checks made by our correspondent revealed that most of the people lacked information about the location of the vaccination centres. They claimed to have only heard there would be vaccination but didn’t know when and where it was held.

Ojo Lamidi, a farmer at Ladunni area of Lagelu, Ibadan, felt he was denied access to the vaccine.

He said: “I heard about the vaccination on radio but it didn’t get here. They didn’t tell us where to get it. They said it was meant for a certain set of people.

“What the government said was that they would make everybody to get the vaccine, but that didn’t happen. The whole thing was consumed by them.

“If they had told us where to get it, we would have gone there, but they never told us. They knew that what they were doing was not right.”

A community leader in Abegede Village, Ibadan, Alhaji Akanni Sulaiman, said: “We didn’t have access to the vaccine. It was not placed near to us.

“You know how far you travelled before getting here. If one would have to leave his work to go as far as the secretariat for vaccina tion, it would take time and money.

“The spread of the vaccination centres is not fair. The nearest hospital here is about eight kilometres away, and they are private ones. We have one at Omin Adio, which is maternal and child care, and another one at Apata.  It will cost a minimum of N500 to go to any of those hospitals.

Madam Maryann Baloye, an octogenarian, was uninformed about who should get the vaccine.

She said:  I didn’t hear about the vaccination. What I heard was that those who contract the virus should go to the clinic. But since I don’t have it, there is no need to go for vaccination.

‘I would have gone if they had said anybody could come for it.  Government officials didn’t come to inform us about the vaccination.”

Head of hunters in Ikija, Yinusa Ahmed, was not sure where the vaccination exercise was taking place. He assumed that if the exercise was taking place at the local government headquarters, the people, rather than spending money to go for the vaccination, would feed with it.

In a tone that showed the level of hunger and poverty in the area, he said: “To go to Idi Ayunre where the vaccination may be taking place would cost an individual at least N300. Would somebody who has not eaten since morning spend that kind of money to go and take a vaccine?

‘Immediately that person has such money, it is bread that such a person will first think about to fill his stomach rather than waste money going for any vaccination.

“I didn’t go for vaccination because I don’t have the time for it. I heard about it but we didn’t see them. I don’t even know where they are doing it.”

Sakariya Rasheed, the Secretary of Aba Maku Residents Association in Bako area of Ibadan, said they only heard about the vaccines but didn’t know where to get them.

Rasheed said: “I have not heard or seen anybody that has taken it. We don’t have a hospital here. We have to go to Omin Adio before we can get a hospital and that would cost about N800.

“People that are further inside this area will spend about N2,500 naira before they can get to the hospital. It discourages people from going to the hospital, and that is why many resort to using herbs.”

At Itele, a suburb of Ado Odo/Ota, Ogun State, the residents were also oblivious of where the vaccination centres were.

“We don’t know where they are giving the vaccines. In fact, we don’t need it. We rely on herbs and are good with it,” a resident who identified herself as Biola said.

When The Nation visited the health centre, one of the nurses said that vaccination was not taking place there. “The exercise is possibly taking place in Ota. If you want to get there, you have to take a bus to Lafenwa, and from there you take a bus to Ota,” she said.

They risk water borne diseases

– Oyo Health Commissioner

Oyo State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Bashir Bello, says that claims by the rural dwellers that they didn’t get information about where the vaccination centres were, were unfounded.

He said: “This is one of the states where the level of awareness was very high. The only issue was that the vaccines were not enough. Those people are the class of people who believe that the pandemic is only for the elite and those travelling out.

“The vaccines are available in all the 33 local government areas of the state. They should go there. The primary health care board is in charge along with the emergency operating centre.”

Reacting to the belief of the people in local vaccines, the commissioner said: “They have to justify their claim. That tells you why those people will not respond if you take the vaccines to their doorsteps, because they believe more in what they are doing to survive than whatever anybody is doing.

“It is just like the case of fibroid where some people will tell you there are herbs that will make it disappear or shrink when they know that the only solution is surgery.

“The victims must have wasted huge money on unrelated solutions before coming for surgery. It is an inherent problem in our society and our only solution is to educate them, and that is what this government is doing,

“Consumption of untreated water and herbs has huge health implications. While on one side some herbs are good, because those applying them, I would not know the dosage, the precautions and the prerequisite conditions for even taking it.

“Who even certifies the public health value of these herbs? They risk contracting all manner of water borne diseases by contracting untreated water. These include guinea worm, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration and so many others.

“They may claim they have not been having any sickness, but you can verify that by visiting them after about six months.

“We don’t have issues to drag with uninformed people. The state has provided almost all that is needed.”

His Ogun State counterpart, Dr. Tomi Coker, did not respond to calls and text message sent to his mobile phone.

When contacted, the Special Adviser to the Ogun State Governor on Public Communication, Hon. Remmy Hazzan, requested that our correspondent should get in touch with the commissioner, who did not respond to the calls and text message earlier made.

Remmy did not respond when our correspondent drew his attention to this.

Overcoming obstacles to vaccinating rural communities

In some other parts of the world, a number of approaches were developed to address the hesitancy towards the COVID-19 vaccines. In West Virginia, USA, the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) posted how the Marion County Health Department, which serves a population of approximately 59,000 people, many of whom live in rural and semi-isolated areas of the county, used a mobile H1N1 vaccine clinic to reach small, rural communities across the region.

People living in parts of western Marion County are approximately 25 to 30 miles away from the Health Department and the only major city in the county. According to Jamie Moore, Public Health Emergency Response Coordinator for Marion County Health Department, the travelling distance combined with snowy roads and the limited hours of vaccine clinics made it difficult for some rural residents to access H1N1 vaccine.

The health department knew that standard vaccine clinics held in local health depart ments, schools, and community centers were not reaching people who lived in some of the more rural hollows. It therefore made sure that anyone who wanted to be vaccinated had the chance to access vaccine. It subsequently partnered with the Office of Emergency Services (OES) to use the OES mobile command centre to deliver vaccine to people who lived in remote regions.

Experts said if African governments are to roll out successful Covid-19 vaccine strategies, they need to tackle vaccine hesitancy through unhindered access to information and creative collaboration with community leaders, including women and youth grassroots movements. These strategies, including the use of positive messaging, storytelling and drama, are essential for enabling people to be vaccinated safely and without fear.

How rural communities are vaccinated in other places

In spite of the inadequate supply of the COVID-19 vaccines globally, some countries in Africa and beyond are making sure that rural people are not left out. In Kenya, solar-powered refrigerators were used to expand the cold chain to health facilities, especially in the rural areas.

In Western Kenya, the COVID-19 vaccination drive was reported to be picking up at a faster rate, especially in the remote areas that are seemingly far from the hospitals. Villagers were able to get the jab without necessarily going to the vaccina tion centres because healthcare workers walk from village to village in a mobile vaccination drive to reach people who live far from health facilities.

“It is hard for us to leave the village to reach the hospital because we don’t have money to travel, and sometimes we don’t have time. So they have really done us a great favour and helped to make things easier for us here,” Leah Okada, vaccine recipient in Nyambare village, said.

Here in Nigeria, Cross River and Kaduna were said to have signed an agreement with Zipline International Inc., a San Francisco based organization, to use drones to distribute COVId-19 vaccines to hard-to-reach and conflict-ridden rural areas.

Cross River state plans to vaccinate more than 3 million people. However, according to Betta Edu, the state’s Commissioner for Health, the goal can’t be accomplished in “over 423 hard-to-reach communities” without drones.

The drones will help the state reach areas that would have taken about two to three days by car in less than 30 minutes.

In Northern Kaduna, the State government also reportedly said that Zipline will use drones to deliver shots to “more than 1,000 health facilities serving millions of people.”

SOURCE: THE NATION

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