By Zack Ohemeng Tawiah
The lives of more than 2,500 residents of Asuboi, a farming community in the Offinso Municipality in the Ashanti Region are at risk of river blindness unless government and benevolent organizations intervene.
Health officials say over 70 per cent of the population is infected following the invasion of black flies in the area.
Many people especially children are plagued with all manner of skin disorders including rashes and lesions, which cause intense itching.
The inability of health workers to reach the people with medical care due to poor road network appears to be a huge impediment to addressing this precarious health situation.
Nhyira Fm’s Ohemeng Tawiah has been investigating the plight of these poor farmers.
An international charity organization, Sight Savers International, estimates about 140 million people in Africa are at risk of river blindness, known medically as Onchocerciasis.
Experts say, the disease which is caused mainly by the filarial worm Onchocerca volvulus is transmitted through bites from infected black flies.
The black flies are adaptable in fast flowing rivers in Sub-Sahara Africa.
The Asuboi Township is located in the middle of the thick Abofuor Forest, about 50 miles or 80 kilometers from Kumasi. The community is sandwiched by two fast flowing rivers, Subin and Nkyereade.
THE USE OF TRADITIONAL METHODS AGAINST A MORE DANGEROUS SCIENTIFIC HEALTH CONDITION
Though the Offinso Municipal Assembly has provided the community with a mechanized bore-hole, majority of residents especially those in nearby hamlets prefer to fetch water from the river. And they share the water with cattle.
They complain the sitting of the bore-hole in a steep area, about one and half kilometer from Asuboi is not ideal.
The road to Asuboi is unmemorable, with deep gullies that make it difficult for road users to ply, virtually cutting the community from the rest of the municipality.
The easiest means to reach the community is by bicycle or motorbikes which also become dangerous and nightmarish adventure in sunny or rainy weather.
Though strange rashes and signs of river blindness are common among the people they appear to have no idea about their predicament.
Ignorantly, they resort to the use of traditional methods such as warm water and locally- made balms for the treatment of the complicated medical condition.
Thirteen-year-old Kwabena Albert is one of many victims who apply local therapy to cure river blindness at Asuboi.
He has for two years now been experiencing symptoms of the disease when a Good Samaritan adopted him.
The disease has also affected children’s education in local schools. Though figures are readily unavailable, many children including Kwabena cannot concentrate in the classroom.
Described as a brilliant chap, the JHS 3 student devotes his attention to scratching his itching body during lessons, a situation believed to be responsible for his abysmal performance in last term’s exams.
Kwabena told this reporter his parents always administer warm water to his body in order to give him some relieve anytime his skin itches.
“My skin itches as a result of the rashes, I always have sleepless nights and I resort to scratching to ease the discomfort,’’ he explained in a troubled mood.
Out of fear of the strange condition, many residents have been seeking solace in the Assembly Member for the area for virtually non-existence support.
Assemblyman for Kwapanin Electoral area, Philip Amponsah Boakye is tired of receiving complaints because according to him, there is little he can do.
He cannot fathom why it has taken health experts so much a time to respond to the needs of the community.
Out of nothing, he directs some affected residents to the nearby health center at Abofuor, about thirty kilometers which health experts say lacks facilities to conduct any proper scientific examinations into Onchocerciasis.
“There are many children, even adults who have got the rashes. You can see so many children with rashes…Even their skins are getting black. Still people are getting infested. I want to appeal to the Central government to take immediate action if not, the people here all of them can be blind and it is very risky’’ he said.
The Municipal Health Directorate appears to have little support for Kwabena and many other residents at Asuboi.
Though tests carried out four months ago under the Rapid Epidemical Mapping for Onchocerciasis programme, established widespread prevalence, officials say there is little they could do.
Bernard Oppong, Municipal Disease Control Officer though described the community as a high transmission area, his outfit dares not to go because the road is inaccessible.
‘’Once the community is located within the thick forest, access to the community is a problem and for that matter, donors who will support us with drugs( Ivermectin ) and other logistics for this treatment wouldn’t be able to access the community and this creating a problem here’’ he explained.
Meanwhile, the Municipal Chief Executive for Offinso, Victor Amponsah says his attention has been drawn to the development, and that steps are being taken to address the problem.
He says the assembly will ensure routine reshaping of roads in the municipality to create access to communities.
Under the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control the World Health Organization estimates the sight of 800,000 people will have been saved by the end of 2010.
The people of Asuboi, however, can only hope for a miracle to save them.