Ode-Irele strange deaths: Between tradition and orthodox medicine | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Ode-Irele strange deaths: Between tradition and orthodox medicine

Posted: Apr 23, 2015 at 1:30 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Yemi Akintomide  – Correspondent, Akure


When the sleepy town of Ode-Irele, the administrative headquarters of Irele Local Government Council area of Ondo State, came into the news last Thursday, as a town where a strange and yet-to-be identified ailment killed 17 people in less than 48 hours, several versions of possible cause of the fearful incident followed as people reacted to the news from far and near.

A source within the town, in fact, 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 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 and then threw the whole town into panic and total confusion.

But, the story took a different dimension when the state government reacted to the tragic news through the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dayo Adeyanju, who confirmed the casualty figures to newsmen in Akure, the state capital, on Thursday, but simply said it was a strange ailment.

He said unconfirmed reports the previous morning said two out of the four patients undergoing treatment in isolated clinic had died on Thursday morning.

Adeyanju, who 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 the 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 the ghost.

While restating that it was not a case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), Adeyanju said there were no cases of diarrhoea, vomiting and haemorrhage that are usual symptoms of the killer EVD.

The commissioner, who gave the assurance that government would do everything possible to control the strange ailment, said the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other partners were already involved in the matter, while samples taken from the victims had been sent to Lagos for proper investigation.

Adeyanju said because the source of the disease had not been known and government had been engaging in advocacy to ensure that new cases are reported, adding that concealment could be devastating.

He advised relations of the victims not to bury their corpses at home, saying they should take the dead ones to the cemetery and be very careful during burials.

The commissioner said the State Disease Surveillance Team and volunteers that were engaged during the Ebola cases had been deployed to the area to control the ailment.

He also disclosed that the Personal Protective Equipment purchased by the government during the EVD cases had been deployed to the area with the handlers.

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 done to 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, where they removed vital elements from the shrine.

Accroding to him, only the Chief Priest and High Chief Gboguron are qualified to enter the shrine.

The chief said the 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 he could not remember the last time Malokun or any other gods had to strike like this in the area, adding that “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”.

He explained further: “Even the Kabiyesi himself (Olofun) is not permitted to enter the Malokun shrine’s inner room except the Chief Priest and High Chief Gboguron. Sacrifice must be performed before they can enter.

“Because these youths want to be rich at all cost, they entered the sacred place and made away with traditional items and 20 of them have died as a result of their desperate acts.

“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 diseases 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 them 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.

“I am, like you, saddened by this losses and the attendant fear of what looks like an epidemic.

“I can only bring words of consolation to the families of the deceased and words of comfort and assurances to the good people of our dear State. Our prayer at this hour is that God grants rest to the dead and fortitude to the living.”

The Governor noted that his administration had taken all necessary and available actions to respond to the health crisis.

He said further: “Amidst conflicting and confusing information, the investigating team of experts sent by government to the area gathered that all the casualties died within hours of affliction. In all, 17 deaths have been confirmed in Ayadi community and Ode Irele township and all the deaths were preceded by symptoms of sudden blurred vision, headache and loss of consciousness.

“It must be said that the team was dispatched to the communities affected and the General Hospital as well as other health facilities, to gather needed information about the nature, scope and circumstances of the outbreak. Key informants interview, hospital record search and patient interview were used to obtain information.

“I must state that the symptoms in this situation are not peculiar to any known epidemic and so have remained largely confounding.”

Mimiko stressed that the symptoms observed in the two communities of Ayadi and Ode Irele bear no resemblance to those associated with the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

“Our investigations thus far have been in conjunction with our development partner, the World Health Organisation, WHO, and report sent to Nigeria  Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

“As we speak, there are no new cases reported in the last 48 hours and none presently in the hospital. We have deployed trained volunteers for active surveillance and case management should the need arise.  Also, advocacy and sensitisation efforts are ongoing in print and on electronic media.

“I am hopeful 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.

“Dear compatriots, these times require vigilance, love and unity of purpose.  These times require care and circumspection. Above all, these times demand strict adherence to hygienic ways of life. Such little things as regular washing of hands, covering of mouths while sneezing can go a long way to ensure healthy living.

“I have directed that the information management team set up for the purpose of gathering facts and responding to questions be available all day and brief the public twice everyday until the disease is contained,” the Governor stated.

However, a medical practitioner who hails from Ode-Irele, Dr. Sunday Akinbiola, warned the state government against playing politics with the Irele strange deaths, saying government must cooperate with the traditionalists in the town to find the root cause of the incident and appraise the goddess rather than seeking intervention fund from developing partners.