Renal Failure in Gashua: The Mystery of an Epidemy

Gashua, an increasingly urbanizing and economically enterprising locality in Bade emirate of Yobe state where the current senate president hails and represents, is plagued with the prevalence of kidney disease among its inhabitants. Statistics about the mortality rate due to the infection, quite scary. And the cause still a mystery.

Sources from the General Hospital Gashua revealed that rather than dwindling, the frequency is still increasing – no less than thirty new cases every month. And almost all the patients in the state’s teaching hospital are from the locality and its environs. So also those in the nearby Federal Medical Center. Owing to this pandemic nature, the former executive governor of Yobe state, Ibrahim Gaidam, was said to have directed free dialysis routine for all the patients indigenous to the state. However, compliance, according to Daily Trust report, appears a mirage, eluding patients and their relatives.

What is frightening about the disease is its treatment and the chances of one’s survival thereafter. Whether on dialysis or transplant, it is financially exhausting, nay prohibitive most often – due to prevalence of another factor: poverty. After enduring the cost of regular dialysis in Maiduguri, my neighbor eventually gave up. In his passing, a whole family stooped – losing a breadwinner according to whose father, were he given divine choice he’d prefer the departure of three other kids in lieu.

Interestingly, the people and their leaders have buckled to finding cause and solution. Awareness rallies and town hall meetings are being organized, and the subject is becoming a topic of Friday sermons in some mosques. A member of a local NGO, BEYID, recently told me that they are partnering with NAFDAC in tracking the disease to its root. And right away samples of eatables ranging from fruits to grains were collected for advanced examination. For the North is no longer that of Joyce Cary – static, passive, oblivious, overly fatalistic.

When recently a researcher and lecturer of Physics from Umar Suleiman College of Education Gashua announced on his Facebook page that he had found it is in the water that people drink the cause lies, many sighed and shouted eureka. In the euphoria, I’d a rethought immediately on the implication of the revelation. My initial concern is the communication approach and its likely psychological consequence. If people are openly told it is their main source of water that endangers and nothing as alternative was proposed, then the success of the post hinges on its fear appeal – reminiscent of a theory in Health Communication. For a people hardly out of Boko Haram trauma, this will only compound their emotional difficulty, overstretching their shock-absorbing capacity. If it is the water flowing from the boreholes and hand pumps around, which according to the researcher contains heavy metals inimical to the renal architecture, then everyone is vulnerable. Almost everyone drink from those sources, or at least one’s meal is cooked with the water therefrom. Therefore the statistics of the infected should be contrary to what is available in the hospital, namely, it should be 7-8 or more in every 10 patients subjected to full blood count or similar tests rather than 3-4.

The revelation actually raises more questions. Some scientists told me that if it is the minerals contained in the water in question, among which lead and cadmium, it would take some 20 – 25 years for the symptom(s) of the disease to manifest. Whereas as the moment exist cases of minors and teenagers as victims. I’d wanted confronting the researcher with this argument. In fact I even called him and booked for an interview. But for reason, it could not happen, unfortunately. Inter alia, I’d intended inquiring about his research method – whether he had tested other suspected variables and found them harmless; whether he’d compared our borehole’s depth with those in the neighboring localities (say Machina or Yusufari) to ascertain it is the shallowness of our water level that is at stake and nothing more. But his latter post on the same platform seems a retraction. For, “the causes of kidney diseases battling Gashua community,” he said, “is multidimensional”.

Closely related to above viewpoint is what the principal medical officer of the hospital told me not quite long. He argued that there is disequilibrium between our scorching weather and people’s water intake. In other words, people here do not drink as much water as they ought to be – a habit which he considers transforming to a culture. This incommensurate intake dehydrates the body fluid and affects delicate organs like the kidney. But this position equally begs for some considerations: the outbreak should, for example, have permeated several communities in the North –from Sokoto to Maiduguri – since we have similar temperature. Why only Gashua? And why kidney alone? As I write this the three cities aforementioned are on virtually the same centrigrade degree, namely, 31, 32, 31, respectively. And what is the empirical evidence attesting the exclusiveness of our low intake? We all seem to be groping in the wilderness of opinions – both expert and otherwise. But in all honesty and appreciation, I have personally found his water therapy quite useful, in many ways than he probably envisaged.

As for the people of Gashua, it is a call for a double declaration of state of emergency – on education, and on a health measure that would demystify the renal mystery resulting in fatalities. So help the governor. So help the senator. And all stakeholders.

Bukar can be reached via




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