When Mrs. Juliana Adoki (real name withheld) developed throat inflammation and distorted speech late in 2010, she visited a native doctor in the Adogi area of Assakio, Lafia-East Development Area of Nasarawa State for treatment.
After a cursory examination, the native doctor said she was suffering from "Belu belu". Mrs. Adoki said the native doctor told her that the throat pain was caused by the enlargement and inflammation of the uvula, a bell-shaped tissue which hangs down from the soft palate of the mouth.
Pharyngotonsillitis, popularly called Belu Belu in local parlance, is an inflammation of the tonsils and the pharynx caused by viral or bacterial infections.
“The native doctor said the solution was the removal of my uvula. I consented and he removed it with some instruments. I was very okay after the surgery,” said the primary school teacher.
Shortly after, Adoki said she got pregnant and went to the hospital to conduct some medical tests.
She said, “The results showed I was HIV positive.”
“Before we got married, my husband and I underwent medical tests and both of us were confirmed HIV negative. A few years after the wedding, I developed pains in my throat. I visited a traditional doctor and he treated me. The pain left.
“It was when I went for antenatal check that I received the shocking news of my HIV status. After the sad news, I began to ponder on how I contracted the virus. My husband is HIV negative. I remembered that the local uvula specialist carried out surgeries with the same surgical knife on three persons before me; he used the same knife on all of us. He also did not sterilise the instruments. I believe that was where I contracted the virus,” she added.
While relieving the psychological trauma of living with the virus, Juliana said she tried to expose the native doctor in order to stop him from further infecting others.
She stated, “I went to his clinic but I was told he (native doctor) was dead.”
She is one of the many residents of Nasarawa who may have contracted HIV from the recklessness of quack doctors, operating under the aegis of Association of Native Doctors in the state.
Although the native doctor who treated Mrs. Adoki is dead, many of his ilk can be found in different towns of the state.
These native doctors, who have no history of medical education, are patronised by residents of the state whenever they develop an enlargement of their uvulas which causes pain, difficulty in swallowing food and distorted speech. Punch observed that the quack doctors operated freely owing to the laxity of regulatory agencies in the state.
One of the native doctors, Abubakar Ibrahim, boasted to Punch that his late dad taught him medicine and surgery. He stated that for 38 years, he had been ‘curing’ residents of the state of Belu Belu by cutting their uvula, whenever they developed inflammation.
The traditional doctor, who is the General Secretary of the Association of Native Doctors in the state, said he had desisted from using the same surgical knife for his patients after he realised it was fuelling the transmission of the virus among his patrons. He was silent on the fate of the people he operated on before he started sterilising his instruments.
He said, “I now sterilise all my equipment. Recently, our association fined some native doctors who persisted in the practice of using same instruments for uvula surgery without sterilising them. They paid N1,500 for breaking our rules. As an association, we are organised but we are worried because some are still curing patients of belu belu without sterilising their instruments.”
Another native doctor in the state, Muhammed Awal, who removes belu belu for N3,000, boasted of his ‘medical prowess.’
Asked where he got his medical training from, Awal said, “It was my grandfather that trained me when I became 18 years old. We are recognised by the state government. For patients who prefer home service, I charge between N5,000 and N10,000. It depends on how they negotiate.”
Awal’s ‘theatre’ was an empty room with a mat on the floor. The clinic contrasted sharply with what obtains in orthodox hospitals. His patient that day was a middle-aged man, Adamu.
He squatted on the floor; his legs soon began to shake visibly due to the prolonged squatting.
After sorting some metallic instruments from his bag, Awal asked Adamu to open his mouth and bend his head backwards to enable him conduct the ‘operation.’ Fright overwhelmed Adamu as Awal thrust the knife into his throat.
After cutting the uvula and applying some substances to stop the bleeding, Awal asked Adamu to bend downward so as not to swallow his blood. It lasted for 30 minutes.
Adamu left the ‘theatre’ almost immediately after the surgery, walking sluggishly out of the room.
Native doctors spreading HIV
The Executive Director, Nasarawa State AIDS Control Agency, Dr. Zakari Umar, confirmed that the native doctors, who use unsterilised tools to conduct surgeries on their patients, are responsible for the increase in the transmission of HIV in the state.
Umar, in an interview with Punch, stressed that such native doctors needed to be educated on the dangers of their practices, adding that this would reduce the figures of new infections.
Speaking on the dangers of such surgeries, the Financial Secretary of Nigeria Medical Association, Nasarawa chapter, Dr. Ashiegbu Kelechi, says patronising quacks for uvula removal is dangerous.
Kelechi said only a qualified medical doctor or physician should examine such patients to really understand the nature of the throat problem.
On the implications of the surgeries, Kelechi said patients who patronised such quack doctors, could lose their voices and contract HIV.
He added that since the quack doctors were not properly trained, they might not know what to do when there is excessive bleeding.
“Those quacks, who conduct these surgeries, are actually not fully aware, in the first instance, what HIV/AIDS is all about. They use unsterilised instruments continuously for many people, thereby ensuring the transmission of the virus.
“We have always advised patients to always see qualified doctors, who will subsequently refer such patients to an Ear Nose and Throat surgeon or dentists,” he said.
When asked if the police had arrested any of the native doctors, the Police Public Relations Officer, Nasarawa State Command, Mr. Kennedy Idirisu, said the police had not arrested any of the native doctors because no complaint had been made against them.