Nigeria: How Strange Disease Forced Benue Govt to Shut School

Vaatia College, a private boarding secondary school in Makurdi metropolis of Benue State was earlier this week shutdown by the state government over the outbreak of an unknown ailment.

The school came under health scrutiny after nine of the students manifested symptoms of a ‘strange’ illness which the state commissioner for health later described as orepa syndrome.

It was feared that more students could become victims of the infection, hence the closure of the institution but no one had reportedly died from the illness.

Vaatia College, which ranks among the highly rated secondary educational facilities in the state, had taken necessary procedures to nip in the bud whatever may be seen as an act of negligence in the future.

To this end, parents received 24-hour notice from the school authorities to evacuate their children/wards back home until the challenges were overcome.

Five students under treatment

Our correspondent who visited the college learnt that at least five students were recently affected by the ailment which symptoms include headache as well as fever.

At the Benue State Teaching Hospital (BSUTH) Makurdi, the management granted our correspondent permission to access the Paediatric ward where two of the affected students were admitted but the Head of Department, Dr Martha Ochoga, declined.

However, our correspondent sighted the students on their beds being attended to by a team of medical personnel.

A parent, who sought anonymity, said he picked up his daughter after the text message from the school authorities.

He explained that the school told them (parents) that they were shutting down to fumigate the premises and to do further findings about what went wrong.

“Besides, the school also organised a prayer session on Thursday as measure to tackle the spiritual aspect. As for me, when they eventually resume, I will take my child back there because I’m not scared of anything. The suspicion is not yet verified and investigation on the unknown illness is still ongoing,” the parent said.

Gov’t assessing the situation for reopening

The Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Dr. Joseph Ngbea, who disclosed that the school was advised to close indefinite while they (ministry) work to understand the disease, said plans have been concluded to carry out an environmental assessment on the school premises before reopening the institution.

According to him, a team from the state ministry of environment would be dispatched to the school for inspection, especially the water source and toilet facilities, before the government will consider its reopening.

Earlier, the commissioner had expressed optimism that the ailing students would be fine.

He said, “I’m just leaving the teaching hospital to see the patients. Three patients are there but one is an outpatient and doing well.

“You know that Nigeria is in the process of certification of polio free, and we saw that some students were having parasis instead of paralysis. (Not complete paralysis) But they are actually doing well. Since there is no paralysis, polio is completely ruled out. So, it is called Orepa syndrome, we are trying to look at that, they are being treated for now and there is no diagnosis at the teaching hospital.”

“We are trying to look at what they are being treated for now, there is no diagnosis at the teaching hospital. Now we are heading to Madonna Hospital where there are two others on admission. The illness is auto immune, it can have effect.”

School management confirms 9 cases

Meanwhile, the authority of the school in a press release by the principal of the college, Odangla Odbiggx Odangla, explained that nine students have so far been affected since the illness was first noticed.

“In 2017, a male student of Vaatia College Makurdi had health challenges and his parents were invited by the college to pick him for further medical attention. Some days after he was picked from the College, he had difficulty walking. He has recovered fully and is back in the college.

“In 2019, a similar incident happened to two female students of the college. The parents of the two students were informed and the one whose parents were in Makurdi came and picked her for further medical examination.

“The other student’s parents were in Abuja and because of the urgency the college attaches to students’ healthcare, she was taken to the Federal Medical Centre Makurdi before her parents arrived from Abuja. She was later referred to the Benue State University Teaching Hospital.

“Both students have recovered fully and are back in school.

“In November 2020, a female student had asthma attack. She had nose bleeding and was unconscious. The college took her to the Benue State University Teaching Hospital. Her parents were notified and they met her at the hospital. She was later discharged and her parents took her home. Some days later, the mum called and informed the college that she had developed difficulty in walking. She is still at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital.

“A few weeks ago, the college received complaints from nine students about shaky legs and difficulty in walking. Four of these students fully recovered shortly after they were picked by their parents. It is pertinent to mention that in all these cases the parents of the affected students were notified.

“The college summoned a meeting between the college management, parents of the affected students and parents that are medical personnel. The medical personnel formed a Medical Advisory Committee to look into the previous and current cases and advise the college on the next line of action.

“The committee advised the college to go on a break while learning continues online. This is to allow for a thorough investigation and implement recommended actions based on findings.

“The management of the college also had a meeting with representatives of the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), medical consultants with the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Madonna Hospital, WHO and UNICEF.

“The outcome of the meeting was a resolution for the formation of a sub committee made up of paediatricians and neurologists to further investigate the current cases.

“The meeting also resolved that officers of the EOC will visit the college and collect samples for further testing and to make available telephone lines to parents of wards that have difficulty in walking.

“The meeting further assured that the health and welfare of members of the college community remains top priority of Vaatia College just as it wishes all affected students a speedy recovery.”


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