•Men, women, children affected
From Gyang Bere, Jos
It is a terrible experience for people living in some communities in Miango District of Bassa Local Government Area (LGA) Plateau State where a sizable number of them lost their sight in a mysterious manner.
Although most of the victims were later diagnosed of glaucoma, a medical condition that leads to permanent blindness, it has aroused fear among residents of the communities due to the manner the disease struck.
Glaucoma is a disease that damages the eye’s optic nerves and occurs when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye. It is a leading cause of blindness for aged persons, but can be prevented with early treatment or intervention.
Sadly, both the aged and the young, male and female, are affected immensely by the medical condition. A middle-age father of three, Adamu Gara, who hails from Chinye village, in Miango, Bassa LGA, lost his vision about six years ago.
He expressed joy that despite his despicable condition, his wife has not abandoned him to fend for himself until death but has always stood by him and the children.
Gara narrated his story thus: “I was not born blind but I experienced vision loss in 2017, about six years ago. It started on one fateful day when I was trying to fix up a door at a building project site when dust from nowhere entered one of my eyes.
“Unconsciously, I began to rub the eye to remove the dust but, a week later, the eye began to itch very seriously so that the eye got hurt. The following week, the second eye also started itching and because of constant scrubbing, it also got hurt.
“Unfortunately, the third week, I completely lost my sight. I visited several hospitals to seek medical intervention by consulting reputable doctors but the effort yielded no result.”
Gara decried his inability to fend for his family due to lost of sight. He appreciated God for assistance from kind individuals but said he could not continue in that direction as he solicited intervention from the public to enable him have a source of livelihood.
The story of Jummai Joseph, from Hukke community in Miango, is pathetic. She was abandoned by her husband with four children when she was struck by blindness.
Jummai has been living without sight since 2014. Yet, she is the breadwinner of her family. Her problem started when she felt something in her eye one fateful day and began to rub it with the intention of removing the particle.
She visited a clinic where she was given eyedrops. After applying it, the pain subsided for some time and later returned, which culminated in blindness.
“I have been living with this health challenge for over eight years. It started in 2014 when I felt some particle in my eyes and I tried to remove it by rubbing the eye, which was very painful. I went to a clinic after the pain persisted and got medication but the drugs could not solve the problem, which led me into blindness.
“That was the most challenging period in my life, which cost me my marriage and means of livelihood. I felt like committing suicide; life became meaningless to me, until my aged mother came to my rescue. She took care of me and the children within the said period.”
Jummai’s situation was compounded with the plague of insecurity orchestrated by Fulani herdsmen, leading to loss of several lives in Irigwe Chiefdom of Bassa LGA. Unfortunately, the bloodthirsty marauders visited her community during a midnight attack and set her home ablaze. Luckily, she escaped death with her children by the mercy of God.
“My village was attacked one night by Fulani herdsmen, which put me in distress. I could not see nor flee from the attackers but my brother did all he could to hide me somewhere. Shortly after we hid somewhere, we noticed that our house was set on fire. I keep thanking God for my brother, who was brave enough to carry me to a safe place. Otherwise, I would have lost my life.
“We became homeless and I took the bull by the horns and rented a small room where I manage life with my kids. I solicited resources and went to School for the Blind in Zawan, where I was taught some skills like Braille, bead-making, liquid soap and disinfectants production.
“I will require help in the area of shelter for me and my children and a startup capital to launch a business with the skills I have acquired in Zawan. This will help me to be self-reliant and provide for my children,” she said.
Victoria Thomas re-echoed the position of Jummai but she was lucky that her husband did not throw her away. She still lives happily with her husband despite the condition.
Victoria, a mother of three, who hails from Kwall village in Bassa LGA, lost her sight 19 years ago. “We were returning home from the farm and got to a point where we had to cross a river.
“When I got into the river, I swam across and got home without any challenge. I slept and woke up the following morning and discovered that I could not see. My parents took me to various hospitals in search of solutions. We even visited the National Eye Hospital in Kaduna, where I was booked for a surgical procedure, but the doctors soon discovered that many of the veins in my eyes were badly damaged and the surgery couldn’t hold.
“Since that period, I have been living as a blind woman. Last year, I decided to visit my aunt in Jebbus Miango, where I have been living with her, but the experience of insecurity in the area is next to death.
“Each time Fulani herdsmen strike at night, everyone will be running helter-skelter. On one occasion, my aunt held me by the hand, and we begin to run to an unknown destination. We continued running until we tripped over something and fell into a ditch. We couldn’t move any longer.
“The attackers ran after us, but we remained inside the ditch until the gunfire ceased and they eventually left. It was an experience that I cannot forget in a hurry. I have never been scared in my life like that day. Many people were killed and others were injured but God spared my life.
“The visual impairment has caused me delays in life. Imagine that, at my age, I am only just starting a diploma programme. This contrasts with many of my mates and even juniors who have advanced in life. Some of them are gainfully employed in big organizations, but, to God be the glory, I am alive,” she said.
Abirina Abinkenene, from Gabia village in Kwall District in Irigwe Chiefdom, Bassa LGA of Plateau State, who is afflicted with the condition, said: “I am married with three children and I have been suffering from this visual impairment since 2011.
“I began to see something that formed like a cloud in my eyes. It was quite strange to me. I kept having that experience until when my vision began to fade. It took a serious dimension that I needed to see an ophthalmologist.
“It was unfortunate that doctors commenced a nationwide strike in that period and it lasted for several months. In between the strike, crisis hit Jos, which further worsened the situation. By the time I was able to visit the hospital, it was too late. That was when I was diagnosed with glaucoma.”
The executive director HighFlow Channels, Rev. Gabriel Makan, who works in communities affected by violent conflicts in Bassa LGA to provide relief materials to victims, said the plight of blind persons required a more strategic and multifaceted approach for appropriate intervention.
He noted that, if the majority of the victims became blind due to illness, the entire Irigwe rural population might be at risk of being hit by blindness over time.
Rev. Makan noted that, in the course of their work in the Irigwe Chiefdom, the plight of the visually handicapped as a vulnerable population was brought to their attention.
He said: “These persons have equally been severely affected by the attacks in the communities. Much more disturbing was that, when we set out to gather data about them, we were surprised by the alarming number of blind people across age brackets in Irigwe. We discovered over 100 persons – men, women and children.
“We are working in collaboration with experts in the field of community medicine, opthalmology, community development and relevant government agencies and other local and international organizations with similar objectives to conduct more in-depth research as well as proffer short, medium and long-term solutions.
“Previous intervention projects in collaboration with International Christian Concern and Creative Associates International in North Central (Middle Belt) North West and North East states of Nigeria include direct food/clothing to IDPs, agricultural (farming support – communal/family, emergency medical aid to victims, resettlement (homes rebuilt), vulnerable children’s education support and trauma healing services.”