In Anambra, Ebonyi as well as other states in the South-east, the stampede occasioned by monkey pox vaccine scare resulted in the closure of most schools in the area. OKEY CHRIS and EGWUAGHA AMARACHUKWU narrate the scenarios
How it started
There is no gainsaying the fact that both private and public schools in Anambra State were yet to resume for normal academic activities following a sudden closure of the institutions since Wednesday, October 11.
It would be recalled that sudden appearance of the Medical Corps of 82 Division of Nigeria Army at St Michael’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State for what they termed Free Medical Mission (Outreach) forced most schools to shutdown infinitely.
Wide spread information on social media
That was at the heels of a wide spread information on social media that the military who were carrying out the free medical exercise were visiting schools and forcefully injecting pupils and students with monkey pox diseases in an alleged efforts of the federal government to depopulate the Southeastern part of the country over their quest for Biafra.
It was observed that as at 10:00am on Wednesday, school principals and head teachers of public and private schools including missionary schools in Ozubulu, as well as in Nnewi, Oraifite, Okija, Ihiala, Onitsha, Awka and across the 21 local government areas of Anambra state dismissed their students to go home over a rumour that the Nigerian military was about moving from school to school to immunize pupils and infect them with monkey pox epidemic.
Almost immediately, the internet was awash with pictures of panic stricken -students and pupils scampering for safety from schools as their parents and guardians jumped through the fences and gates to carry or prevent their beloved from being transmitted with the deadly virus.
Our reporter reliably gathered that most parents and guardians were yet to allow their children to resume schooling ever since then. A private primary and secondary school owner in Awka, Michael Odo, who spoke to Blueprint, said that most of the parents whose children are attending his school told him that they would only allow their children to return to schools when the tension is doused.
Cause of uncertainties
During the week, the Anambra State government flagged off Saving One Million Lives, a federal government immunization project targeted at administering vaccines on school children to prevent them from contracting viral diseases.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, who first flagged off the programme in 2015, said it was an elaborate scheme to expand access to essential primary health care services for women and children.
The objective of the Saving One Million Lives Program-for-Results (PforP) Project for Nigeria is to increase the utilization and quality of high impact reproductive, child health, and nutrition interventions.
Similarly, Nigeria military commenced its free medical care to the people of Ekwusigo Local Government Area. The event which kicked-off at St. Michael Amakwa Ozubulu had in attendance the Transition Chairman of Ekwusigo LGA, Mr. IKenna Ofodeme, representative of the state ministry of health, traditional rulers in the council area and some army officers clad in their regalia.
Both programmes were coming on the heels of the alleged drug war that led to killings of some congregations at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, and military operation in the Southeast codenamed Egwu Eke or Python Dance 2.
The military medical outreach obviously came without adequate sensitisation of the people which was evident as the military admitted later on that the people were not well informed of both exercise.
The Deputy Director, Public Relations 82 Division of Nigeria Army, Colonel Sagir Musa, who reacted immediately to the rumour, said it was a harmless free medical outreach targeted to some communities in the Southeast region and not a vaccine exercise intended to infect monkey pox or any major contemporary or emerging diseases in Nigeria to the people of South East or any part of the country.
According to him, it was part of the corporate social responsibility initiatives imbued in to the overall Exercise EGWU EKE 11 package, to the people of the South Eastern Region which is the area of responsibility of the 82 Division Nigerian Army and also the theatre of the exercise.
He added that it started on the 18th of September 2017 in Nkwaagu community of Abakaliki Local Government Area (LGA) of Ebonyi State, and had been conducted at Ovim in Isukwato LGA of Abia State, Mbaise in Imo State, Oji River in Enugu before that of Ozubulu in Anambra State.
Also, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Anambra State Command, ASP Nkeiruka Nwode, in her reaction, urged the general public to disregard the false information and go about their normal activities as the command was assuring them safety.
Nwode maintained that the rumor was being spread by some misguided elements whose intention was to truncating the peace of Anambra and education of the children.
The Anambra State Government, while responding through the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof Solo Chukwulobelu, appealed to the military to stop the medical outreach until wide sensitization is conducted to reassure people of its intentions and benefits.
Chukwulobelu, who argued that the strong apprehension among the populace that led them to be withdrawing their students from schools were as a result of misconception, dispelled the rumour making the round that the exercise has led to spread of diseases and death of students in Anambra.
He therefore urged parents, guardians, stakeholders, community leaders and the general public to allow their children to get back to school as they would not be harmed.
According to Dr Joe Akabuike, Anambra State Commissioner for Health, it is not possible for monkey pox to be transmitted into humans through injections, drugs or vaccines.
Akabuike, who described the rumour as a communication gap between the government, the military and the people, explained that the viral infection could be contracted through touching and eating monkeys, animal bite and others.
Further investigations show that Monkey pox is a zoonotic viral or infectious disease caused by the monkey pox virus. It was first identified in laboratory monkeys, hence its name, but in its natural state it seems to infect rodents more often than humans.
First identified in humans in 1970
It was also learnt that monkey pox was first identified in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then known as Zaire) in a nine year old boy in a region where small pox had been eliminated in 1968, and since then, the majority of cases have been reported in rural, rainforest regions of the Congo Basin and western Africa.
Among other likely sources of contracting this disease are direct contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or cutaneous or mucosal lesions of infected animals, eating inadequately cooked meat of infected animals, human-to-human transmission from close contact with infected respiratory tract secretions, skin lesions of an infected person or objects recently contaminated by patient fluids or lesion materials, etc.
The incubation period (interval from infection to onset of symptoms) of monkey pox is usually from 6 to 16 days although it could range from 5 to 21 days, and is usually characterized by fever, intense headache, lymphadenopathy (swelling of the lymph node), back pain, myalgia (muscle ache) and an intense asthenia (lack of energy), skin eruption period (within 1-3 days) during which rashes appear, spread to the body, bursts and even spread transmit to people around.
It was also learnt that there is no treatment or vaccine available for monkey pox although prior smallpox vaccination was highly effective in preventing it as well.
The Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu earlier reported that the first case of monkey pox in the country was discovered at Bayelsa State on September 22, 2017.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole added that 33 other cases have been reported at Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun and Cross River states.
Also in Abakiliki, in Ebonyi state, the Medical outreach program of the Nigerian Army stirred tension following the dreaded operation python II dance in the south eastern states. Like in Anambra, the rumor caused stampede in nursery, primary and secondary schools in the state.
Rumour that Nigerian Army was forcefully vaccinating pupils in schools over the monkey pox disease put parents and guardians on edge. Also, older students that had their siblings were not left behind as all wanted to ensure the safety of their own.
The vaccination scare was alleged to have caused the death of some pupils in the metropolis. It was alleged that some pupils who allegedly been injected by the suspected military officers were reportedly unconscious.
This allegation led to schools in Ebonyi state that usually dismiss at 2pm to 3pm to close around 12noon. But schools with fence and gates especially, private schools managements insisted that they must complete academic activities of the day and refused parents to take their wards till official closing hour.
It was learnt that some parents had to scale the fences to take their children.
Speaking on the development, Mrs Judith Eneh, headmistress of Juke Group of Schools, Abakaliki, said that she was shocked to see parents throng her school to pick their wards, that fateful day.
“I read an online post that the army was forcefully vaccinating pupils against the monkey-pox all disease, with the advice that parents should immediately evacuate their children” she said.
She noted that before she could convene an emergency management meeting, parents have besieged the school and forcefully left with their children.
Also speaking, the Head of Department, Jesus is Lord International School Abakaliki Mr Emeka Ajaoku, said the school received the information, but dismissed it as a mere rumor since it did not come through government authorities.
“The source of the information is not reliable, it is fake, if the information was true it would have passed through the appropriate channel, as for allowing parent take their children home that is against the school regulations, any child that comes to school stays till dismissal hour, security of our students is in our hands, it is our responsibility to protect them once in school”. I think parents are panicking for nothing, they should go home and allow their children to study”, he said.
On the other hand this singular rumour put so much fear in student and parents as most students were absent in school the following day.
Mrs Justina Nwodo a teacher with Ezekaugo Hiltop Primary school Ezza-Ntezi in Ishielu Local Government said, I believe the rumour of this deadly vaccine was responsible for our pupils not coming to school in their numbers. If you look round our school you will see only few pupils as against about one thousands pupils schooling here.
On her part, Mrs Ngozi okay, she said the outreach vaccine scare has affected the population of schools, stressing that “on Thursday and Friday last week due fear that some parents may loss their children to the vaccine if the military turns up in the school.
“I can’t afford to lose my children, even though they said it was a rumour, I rather prefer they stay in the house for those remaining days of the week, what if what was said to be rumour turns out to be true “. she said.
Dismissing the rumour, both Professor John Ekeh, Commission for Education and Dr Daniel Umezurike, Commissioner for Health Ebonyi state, noted that the news of forceful vaccination was false adding the state was not conducting any vaccination exercise or any other form of medical outreach in schools in the state .Urged parents and teachers the information.
Again, Deputy Director of Public Relations, 82 Division of the Nigerian
Army, Col. Sagir Musa, debunked the rumour in a telephone chat, saying that the news was false and a ‘mere rumour’.
Ordinarily, the vaccine outreach should be a welcome development, but the vaccine-scare induced stampede is spreading like the harmattan wide fire across other areas of the country. Unfortunately, as at press time, eleven states have reportedly witnessed the stampede with parents dashing to withdraw their children from schools, the latest being Borno state.