Grief As Hepatitis B Kills Seven In One Family
By Andrew Cohen Amvesi
Flister Ifiru, 35, and Julie Orijaru, 40, have lived for more than ten years as family heads of a home in Obokoa village, Robu Parish, Kijomoro Sub County in Maracha district.
This is after Hepatitis B struck the home, killing seven family members including their two husbands; Luka Matua and his young follower, Silvano Toko.
Ifiru was married to Matua while Orijaru was a wife to Toko, who both passed on in mid 2000 after showing similar symptoms of Hepatitis B which locals perceived to be bewitching.
According to Ifiru, her husband, Matua died in 2004, leaving behind their six months last born, Harriet Sikuru now a 12-year-old girl.
She said it all started when Matua begun developing high fever which eventually culminated into lose of weight, vomiting, muscle ache as he turned yellowish before being bedridden.
“Later, my husband’s stomach started swelling, an act that forced family members to rush him to a Witch-doctor thinking that he was bewitched. In a period of two weeks, my husband died from the Witch Doctors shrine in Nyadri trading Center, Maracha district,” Ifiru narrated in an exclusive interview with Red Pepper at her home on Monday.
In September 2005, Ifiru noted that the same symptoms started showing up on her husband’s young brother, Toko, who also died in a similar way.
When contacted, Dr. Darlington Akusa, a medical doctor in charge of the Out Patients Department (OPD) at Arua regional referral hospital said Hepatitis B is a contagious disease caused by Hepatitis B Virus.
He said the disease spreads very fast through contact with fluids and blood.
According to Dr. Akusa, a person affected by Hepatitis B shows signs and symptoms of high fever, headache, joint pain, muscle ache, abdominal pain, vomiting, the eyes and the body eventually turn yellowish, bulging stomach, passes yellow urine, the body itches and sometimes passes blood in stool.
He said all the above occur in a period of two weeks after the failure of the affected person’s liver.
With tears rolling down her cheek, Ifiru flashed back on how the family started losing people to the then little known Hepatitis B, in an interval of not more than two years with the exception of Angelina Ajio, her mother-in-law, who died of Cholera in 2009.
“After Toko, Matiasi Yuma, the second born of the family died, he was followed by Stephen Ongua and later their first born, Irene Ezuku, all showing the same signs and symptoms,” Ifiru said without recalling the exact years of their demise.
She said all the dead were first rushed to different Witch Doctors, who changed various herbs in vain.
According to Ifiru, it was until June this year when Leminda Ojodraru also started showing similar symptoms that she was, this time round, taken to Arua regional referral hospital where doctors discovered that her liver was already spoilt due to Hepatitis B.
But it was already too late for doctors to save Ojodraru’s life since the sickness was discovered after it had severely damaged her liver.
“The compound you are seeing here is full of graves though running water has already leveled others,” said Ifiru as she pointed at some of the hard to notice graves on the compound.
At this point, a miserably seated Orijaru interjected in the middle of the interview to add on that shortly after Ojodraru’s burial, clansmen thought of calling the uncles of her father-in-law, Lazaro Andima, the father of the dying children, who was equally battling the same illness, to come and pray for him in a bid to save his life.
“A ram was slaughtered and the prayers took place before Andima was taken to Arua hospital where he was also diagnosed with Hepatitis B. Unfortunately, the prayers didn’t work as my father-in-law died within the same month of his daughter’s demise,” Orijaru stated.
She said the bodies of her sisters-in-law were claimed by their husbands including the children while the rest were laid to rest on the compound with only Andima’s grave remaining visible as of now.
Francis Asizua, the Obokoa Village Health Team (VHT) boss said on realizing that it was Hepatitis B killing her family members, Flister Odaru, late Andima’s only surviving daughter later went to Arua hospital and also tested positive of the ddeadly disease.
Asizua, who castigated the two widows for failing to go for Hepatitis B testing alongside their orphans, said up to now, Odaru is still living positive with the disease as she continues taking its drugs at her marital home in Oluodri, Katrini Sub County, Terego County in Arua district.
From the shocking experience, Orijaru says life has never been the same for them.
“We were left with twelve orphans to look after; 5 are mine and the other seven are for Ifiru with a baby belonging to a man, who only impregnated her and later disappeared,” said Orijaru.
She explained that all the children have refused to go to school as they grew up learning that their fathers are dead.
“We tried to chase them to school but being women, we couldn’t do much, a reason they are at home up to now,” Orijaru explained.
According to Orijaru, the only thing they can afford to do is to look for food for the family.
Orijaru narrated that they normally go out to do some casual work in people’s fields and earn at most shs2000 per day, the money they in turn put together to buy food for the children.
“Since the money we get is little yet the children are many, we decided to train them to eat two meals a day; breakfast and supper,” said Orijaru.
She said the meal is sometimes aided by the little food stuff they normally grow in their own fields on Saturdays, a day in a week which they dedicated for home work.
“We can’t also afford buying clothes and that is why, we thought it wise to instead look for food for the children to eat. It is better for them to move naked while satisfied than putting on nice dresses on empty stomachs,” said Orijaru.
When asked whether they receive any external help, Orijaru quickly responded by saying ‘no,’ adding that she even has no hope of any external help since it has taken them more than ten years to handle the situation.
According to Dr. Akusa, the prevalence rate of Hepatitis B in West Nile region as of now stands at 19.5 percent, one of the greatest prevalence rates in Uganda at the moment.
He said on average, Arua regional referral hospital receives about 80 Hepatitis B patients monthly.
Out of the 80, Dr. Akusa said two to three patients normally end up dying mainly as a result of complications of Liver Cirrhosis and Liver Cancer.
Dr. Akusa, however, said many people end up dying silently of Hepatitis B in their homes in various villages in West Nile region due to ignorance about the disease.
He noted that there is no much sensitization about the cause, symptoms and the mode of spread of Hepatitis B, a reason locals rush with patients to Witchdoctors thinking they are bewitched.
In Kuluva hospital alone, Dr. Bernard Lango, the Hospital’s deputy Superintendent said they enrolled a total of 290 patients in Hepatitis B Clinic in a period of one and a half months (starting from November 2016).
He observed that 87 of the patients need Hepatitis B Anti-Retro Viral drugs (ARVs) drugs while others are still being monitored.
Dr. Lango, however, said there are no ARVs to administer for the victims at all, an act he said has put the patients’ lives at stake.
In October this year, Gabriel Ajedra Aridru, the State Minister of Finance in charge of general duties accused the Health Ministry of poor planning when it comes to the fight against Hepatitis B.
“We had given the Ministry of Health shs10bn for procuring Hepatitis B drugs but their planning was not proper,” Aridru said.
“At some incident, they procured the drugs without knowing who has the disease or not. They didn’t even know the disease viral load because they didn’t test anybody,” Aridru added.
He said this time round, the Ministry has been added another shs5bn for the exercise with hopes that they will change.
Aridru emphasized that President Yoweri Museveni strongly believes that the influx of mainly South Sudan refugees has greatly contributed to the rapid spread of Hepatitis Bdisease in the Country.