Asmau Isah who was born in Katsina state is a leprosy patient at the Minna Leprosy Referral Centre, and she has been there in the past 30 years with no hope of being discharged in the near future.
Asmau’s pathetic story stands out among the 50 patients at the Centre, she is abandoned, deprived and depressed.
The 45-year-old woman has lost touch with members of her family, her village and the society at large, and has resolved to live the rest of her life at the Lepers Colony, as the facility is popularly known, where she refers to as her home, even if she is eventually cured of her ailment. Her reason is that she has nowhere to go.
Ill-luck, pain and anguish had trailed her path all her life, and has not loosened grip on her till date. A few years after being admitted at the leprosy centre, she met and fell in love with a man, Mohammed Isah, also a leper at the Centre, whom she eventually married. It was, indeed, a blissful union for the couple until her 19th anniversary at the medical facility, when her right leg was amputated from the knee due to her deteriorating condition.
She lived on, oblivious that a shocker was in the offing. Two years ago, her hubby was cured of the disease and discharged from the Centre. Mohammed left her for his home at Suleja, and pointedly bid her farewell forever. It was an abrupt divorce she least expected.
Asmau, chairperson of the female leprosy patients at the Centre was devastated by the decision of her husband, more so, as it was conveyed to her in a divorce letter dropped on her hospital bed.
“My parents are dead. I don’t have a husband, no child and my relations no longer identify with me; I don’t even know where they are now. So, even if I’m healed of the disease, I have nowhere to go”, she lamented and wept profusely, during a recent encounter with our correspondent.
She shares same fate with 42-year-old Aisha Ibrahim, who hails from Suleja Local Government Area in Niger State. The difference, however, is that Aisha, who has barely spent three years at the leprosy centre, now has her two children, aged 8 and 10, to contend with. The kids were said to have contacted the disease in the course of visiting their mother at the Centre. Now, they have all been abandoned, and like Asmau, resigned their fate to God.
Situated at the outskirts of the Niger State capital, the Minna Leprosy Referral Centre (MLRC) is one of the oldest of such facilities in northern Nigeria. It was built during the British colonial administration, managed and operated by the missionary until 1975 when the North-western regional government took over after the exit of the missionaries. Subsequently, it was taken over by the Niger State government after the creation of the state in 1976.
The hospital, which is the only referral centre for leprosy patients in the northern axis, has played host to over 20,000 patients suffering from the disease, and other related diseases, including tuberculosis.
Despite efforts by government at eradicating the disease, leprosy remains a menace in Africa, especially in Nigeria, with new cases being discovered every year.
According to available statistics, about 249,000 new cases were recorded in Africa in 2008 alone, with Nigeria recording 3,805 cases in 2012, and the figure is said to be on a steady increase.
An official at the Tuberculosis/Leprosy Control Office of the Niger State Ministry of Health, said that about 147 cases of the disease were discovered in 2015, just as no fewer than 92 were recorded in the first quarter of 2016. Despite the frightening figures, successive administrations in the state had turned a blind eye to the Centre and the plight of the patients.
Checks by newsmen revealed that no official of the state government has visited the Centre in the past 30 years, even as it is located just 10 kilometres away from the state capital. The Lepers Colony, as it is popularly known, is now a shadow of itself with all facilities dilapidated, since no renovation had been done after the exit of the missionary in 1975. But for interventions by the Leprosy Mission International and T.Y Danjuma Foundation, the Centre would have since ceased to exist.
The only access road to the Centre had since been cut off by erosion, and food supply to the 50 patients currently on admission in the hospital is now a challenge, as the contractor had stopped supplies for almost a year due to the inability of the state government to offset a N3million debt.
It was learnt that the government has resorted to providing a sum of N100, 000 monthly as feeding allowance for the 50 patients and this amount, according to Ibrahim Ndastu, a Deputy Director in the state Ministry of Health in charge of the Centre, is grossly inadequate.
Rather than reprieve, patients are now groaning under a heavy financial burden of footing the bills for their drugs and other requirements even when most of them have been abandoned to their fate by their families.
Their predicament is further compounded by the fact that the Centre had been thrown into darkness for over a period of two years, following the activities of electric cable vandals, a situation that has also affected water supply to the facility. Presently, the Centre has two medical doctors, two nurses and 17 community health workers attending to patients.