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Encounter with skin cancer-stricken Jos teen

He always sits on the fence of the Media Trust Limited office in Jos, lonesome, waiting for the traffic light by the British-American Tobacco Junction…

He always sits on the fence of the Media Trust Limited office in Jos, lonesome, waiting for the traffic light by the British-American Tobacco Junction to turn red so he can approach the vehicles lined up in traffic to beg. Always wearing his pink rubber slippers, the teen with dark, scaly skin would limp near the cars and in most cases, without uttering a word, compassionate individuals would offer him a token. His hands are ever so busy scratching every part of his body and peeling off dried layers of scabs from his face and knees. This is the life of Haruna Shu’aibu who says he has been like this all his life.

Haruna, 13, said his routine is to leave his home in Dutse Uku, Jos, every morning at eight o’clock on a motorcycle to stand at the junction where he begs until midday. He follows cars and says he makes at least N500 daily which he takes home to his mother as savings for his healthcare. He explained that though some people are sympathetic to him, others look at him with disgust and immediately wind up their vehicle glass as soon as they see him approach. “Even those who help me do not like looking at me. They just take a first look and hand me a token looking the other way,” he said.

Based on what he learnt from his parents, Haruna says he has skin cancer, a disease he was born with, adding that he is the only child among his mother’s children with it. “My entire body hurts and itches all the time, but I am used to it. I just scratch it and sometimes peel off the layers of the dry skin.”

The only time he felt some relief he said was some years back when he was taken to a hospital in Mangu local government area of Plateau State. He said he was admitted and treated for the ailment and was given some drugs and ointment to rub all over his body. “After I exhausted my medication, we were told to go back to the hospital, but my parents did not have the money. Now, I am using traditional medicine which I rub all over my body after taking my bath. My grandmother usually brings Shea butter which I rub on my feet before I go to bed,” adding that his parents have promised to take him back to the hospital as soon as he is able to save enough money.

However, his mother, Amina Haruna, says that the various medications he was given at the hospital only seemed to work at the beginning. “Usually, the treatment works at the beginning but after a few weeks, his body starts to swell up and when we return to the hospital, they will change the medication. In fact, when he started the Mangu treatment, his face started clearing but as soon as a new layer of skin starts growing out, it comes out looking abrasive. We did that about three times until we exhausted our savings. That was why he decided to beg on the streets. He came to me one day and told me that he wanted to go begging so he could assist me since I had exhausted my savings. And since then he has saved close to N50, 000,” the mother explained.

Fondly called Baba at home, his mother says at the initial stage, Haruna didn’t have friends as most members of his age group either avoided or made fun of him. She explained that as strangers got used to him, they became more comfortable around him and no longer bother about his appearance. “They are now used to him and do not make fun of him, neither do they shun him. Those who see him for the first time find him scary but after a while, they get used to seeing him around and it doesn’t bother them anymore.”

While shedding light on the mysterious ailment, Amina explained that she had a terrible experience while pregnant with Haruna which resulted in constant bleeding. She claimed that she was scanned four times at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), but was told that there was nothing wrong with the baby. “On the day I gave birth to him, it was late at night, so after my mother washed him she discovered that his skin was looking dry and burnt. We waited until morning, but by then, his body was all scally, just as he is now. When we took him to a Plateau hospital, they admitted us for about three weeks. They removed a clot of flesh covering his nose which made breathing difficult at the beginning. After that, we noticed there was no improvement and we were discharged to come back home, so, we started using traditional medicine.”

She said   there are those who have told her that her son’s sickness is spiritual and may not be unconnected to her ex husband’s (Haruna’s father) career. According to Amina, “his father is a hunter and one evening while I was four months pregnant with Baba, his father returned from his hunting expedition. The moment he set his foot into the house, I felt an excruciating pain from the inside of my brain passing through my body to my feet and since then, I started bleeding and I was always sick until I gave birth to him.”

Amina added: “I had left his father’s house when I delivered him but right from when he was a child, his father had always been scared of him and since then, he hasn’t done anything to assist in the child’s treatment. I just thank God almighty and my present husband for accepting him and helping me raise him. My wish is to see my son live as normal as possible. I still believe in miracles; if it is God’s will, my son will be cured of this ailment, but if not, then I will continue to pray that people accept him as he is and are compassionate towards him.”

For Haruna, there is light at the end of the tunnel. He is hopeful that someday, he will surely save enough money to get the best medical help possible. “Someday, I will walk down the streets without attracting stares from people, I will look as normal as any of my brothers and friends,” he said with hope in his eyes.


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