Experts comb Ondo communities for cause of mystery deaths | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Experts comb Ondo communities for cause of mystery deaths

Posted: Apr 20, 2015 at 7:18 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Yinka Shokunbi (Lagos) and From Yemi Akintomide (Akure)

Following the hypothesis by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the mystery deaths ravaging the Ode-Irele community in Ondo State could have been caused by pesticide poisoning, a team of experts from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (CDC) were at the weekend dispatched to the town to ascertain the exact cause of deaths.

Professor Abdusalam Nasidi

Professor Abdusalam Nasidi

Director of the centre, Professor Abdusalam Nasidi who confirmed this in a chat with Daily Independent on Sunday evening, said the experts are to visit Ode-Irele and its surrounding communities to establish the cause of death that have so far claimed about 25 lives since Wednesday.

But the state’s Commissioner for Health, Dr Dayo Adeyanju debunked the pesticide theory, which he said is untrue.

According to him, “initial fact-finding mission carried out by a team from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and WHO under my observation on Saturday showed that all the victims had consumed a locally brewed gin that is popular in that area”.

Dr Adeyanju told our Correspondent, “I was with the team from UNICEF and WHO on Saturday when we conducted an active case search and we discovered that the all dead shared the same thing in common.

“It was discovered that all the dead and some other five survivors who are still under intensive care, took part in the consumption of a local gin that is common in the area and also, from the same joint. So, samples from the five survivors have been collected and sent to the University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan for toxicology test,” said Adeyanju.

Adeyanju confirmed meeting with the experts from CDC also on Saturday who “are equally on ground, doing their work and I am sure at the end of the day, we shall unravel the truth about the deaths”, he told Daily Independent.

For Nasidi: “Our team of experts on disease control are already on ground combing the surrounding communities of Ode-Irele and hopefully should be able to establish the truth before Monday and would brief the Minister of Health who would make the findings known to the whole world”.

But Gregory Hartl, Head of Public Relations/Social Media for the WHO, Gregory Hartl, in a tweet on Sunday insisted that “current hypothesis is cause of the event is herbicides.

“Tests done so far are negative for viral and bacterial infection”, he added.

The mysterious deaths from Ode-Irele made the headlines last Wednesday when it was reported that about 23 people had died few hours after showing symptoms of strange illness prompting fears of a new infectious disease outbreak in the country.

All the victims manifested symptoms of headache, weight loss, blurred vision and loss of consciousness and died within a day of falling ill in the town of Ode-Irele, in south-western Ondo state.

So far, all the tests carried out on the victims have so far been negative for viral and bacterial infections.

A source within the town however, linked the strange deaths to a deity in the town known as Malokun, a river goddess who struck when some unknown persons wrongly and forcefully entered the deity’s shrine ‘Oju Omalokun’ and allegedly stole a vital part of the deity and sold it off to white men in exchange for several millions of naira.

The deity reportedly went after the perpetrators of the deadly act, killing them in quick succession, thereby throwing the whole town in total confusion.

But, the story took a different dimension when the state government reacted to the tragic news through the state Commissioner for Health, said the presentation from the investigations carried out on the victims did not reveal symptoms of the dreaded Ebola disease, said the State Government had moved into the area to curtail spread of the strange disease.

He said preliminary report showed that the dead persons complained of headache and later lost their sight before they finally gave up.

He urged the people to rely on the information from the official sources to avoid creating panic among the people.

But, High Chief Moses Enimade, the Oyewoga of Ode-Irele who is next in ranking to Olofun of Irele, Oba Cornelius Olanrewaju-Lebi, insisted that the deaths were caused by sacrilege committed against Malokun, the god of the land.

He debunked the rumour that the deaths were caused by strange disease or Ebola virus.

Enimade, while justifying the Maloku story, contended that some stubborn youths broke into the inner room of Molokun Shrine on April 14, 215 where they removed vital elements from the shrine.

According to him, some youths entered the shrine and made away with traditional items in a bid to acquire extraordinary powers and engage in money ritual, but “they were not qualified to enter the room shrine and they had to face death penalty.”

The traditionalist said it he could not remember the last time Malokun or any other gods had to strike like this in the area, adding “there is no community or town without its own culture and tradition. What happened in Irele is the judgement of the gods on stubborn youths.

“We have to appease the gods or else many will still die and we have to bury them according to tradition. Their corpses belong to the gods and will be exhumed if buried by their families.”

Enimade restated that the deaths were not caused by disease or Ebola as widely speculated, stressing that the deaths were caused by Malokun which is characterised by severe headache and blindness.

As parts of atonement to the river goddess, women who are indigenes of the town had been pouring several gallons of water on the Malokun Shrine, begging the goddess for forgiveness and stop further calamity in the town.

The state governor, Olusegun Mimiko, himself a medical doctor, addressed the people of the state in a broadcast on the Ondo State Radiovision Corporation (OSRC) on Friday, to assure the people of their safety, describing the incident as “a major health challenge.”

He said: “A yet to be named ailment whose causative agents, diagnosis and cure are also yet to be determined struck in locations in Irele Local Government Area of our State, killing 17 people and stoking panic and fear.

While expressing sadness at incidence, he expressed hope “that with the combined efforts of all, final and definite solution will just be a matter of days. In the meantime, Cerebro Spinal fluid, Blood and Urine specimens have been taken for examination.

“These specimens have been cultured and examined and the preliminary results show that no known viral infection has been detected. We have further ordered toxicology test.

“We have commenced active surveillance through the Local Government Area Disease Surveillance and Notification Officer.

“We await final laboratory results to be able to fully apprehend and finally surmount this challenge. We use this opportunity to appeal to citizens and residents to report any suspicious case with blurring of vision, incoherence or related symptoms to the nearest health facilities,” he stressed.