North West District community fears spread of TB

Multiple reports of tuberculosis (TB) in the North West District community of Tobago Hill in the Mabaruma Sub-Region are being monitored by health personnel in the area but residents in neighbouring communities fear its spread.

During a recent visit to the region, persons in the nearby communities told this newspaper that several persons were being treated at Tobago Hill for TB. Toshao of Tobago Hill Edmond Santiago told this newspaper that a number of residents had complained of symptoms associated with TB. He said too that he had received reports of persons in the community experiencing a gastro-like illness, with symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea being common. Stabroek News was told that last Thursday a one-year-old baby from the community was rushed to the Mabaruma Public Hospital after experiencing vomiting and diarrhoea symptoms, but died the following day.

An excavator operating close to a site demarcated for a Tilapia pond at Tobago Hill. The project is being undertaken by members of the Voluntary Services Overseas working in the Mabaruma Sub-Region.

Tobago Hill, a fairly new community, has only been in existence some five years. Its 167 residents, predominantly of the Warrau tribe were relocated from several riverain communities along the Aruka and Barima rivers.

A health worker in the region told this newspaper that during visits to the community in the past months, cases of TB were observed. And while preventative measures and dates were provided to the residents for regular visits to the hospital in the area, the affected persons have not been showing up at the hospital for treatment. Residents said that almost all of the 32 households in the small hill-top community had someone being treated for TB.

Regional Health Services (RHS) Director Dr Narine Singh was unavailable when attempts were made to contact him over the past two days by Stabroek News and persons at the RHS offices told this newspaper that they were unaware of the situation.

Tuberculosis, a common and often deadly infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body. It is spread through the air when people who have the disease cough, sneeze, or spit.

Meanwhile, several visitors to the small community expressed shock at the conditions under which the residents of Tobago Hill live. One construction worker who visited the distant village told Stabroek News that the residents appeared to be “on their own”. He said the residents there would say little about their family members and life in the community. The residents live in small, green painted one and two-bedroom cottages which were constructed under a by Food For the Poor (Guyana) Inc project.

The New Testament Church of God’s church at Tobago Hill. Services are held on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

There are reports of several teenage mothers in the community, some conceiving as early as 13 years old. According to a health official, while there have been attempts at various forums to address the issue with the residents, there was a reluctance to embrace change.

During interviews with this newspaper, most householders could not understand what was being asked as the dialect of the Warrau tribe is the common language spoken throughout the community. This newspaper observed several children playing in a  creek which borders the community. while at the same time an obnoxious stench emanated from the nearby bushes.

Members of the Jeffrey family, who recently moved into the community, said there were limited toilet facilities at Tobago Hill, perhaps only as much as four. As one family member spoke to this newspaper another resident pointed to fecal matter in the nearby creek. Residents utilize the creek water for cooking. The creek runs parallel to the Wanaina Creek, the main source for water entering the mains of the more populated and developed communities of Hosororo and Wauna and residents in the latter communities expressed concern about the issue when questioned by Stabroek News.

The patriarch of the Jeffrey family told this newspaper that he and his family, like many others at Tobago Hill, once lived along the Aruka River at an area known as Soomottoo Creek. He said that  over time water was encroaching their yards and most of the households had been relocating over the years to locations on higher ground along the river banks. He said that members of the New Testament Church of God visited the area some years ago and after observing the plight of the approached the regional administration who gave them the go-ahead to relocate to Tobago Hill.

Several children play in the water at a creek which runs along the sides of Tobago Hill .The community would utilize the water in creek for cooking and washing purposes.

He said life has been difficult for persons in the farming and crab-catching community and to date most of the families at Tobago  Hill remain below the poverty line. As an example he noted that there are just two water tanks in the area which supply potable water to the entire community. He said the residents feel “left out” and “isolated”, adding, “people hardly come in here…even the regional people.”

The name Tobago Hill, Santiago said, was derived from the tobacco plant which was prevalent in the area decades ago. The community is located between Hosororo and Wauna and is accessed via the main road connecting the latter communities.

Residents at Tobago Hill live a primitive lifestyle, Toshao Santiago said. There are two shops in the centre of the community and residents utilize mainly Amerindian dishes while a few recently started rearing chickens, mainly for their own use.

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