Injected to blindness: Harrowing tale of 10 Eye Centre patients

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They went to the National Eye Centre with high hopes of improving their sight. But, the reverse turned out to be the case. They came out worse than they went in as they became blind. Abdulgafar Alabelewe tells the pathetic story of 10 eye patients.

THEY went to the  National Eye Centre, Kaduna with their sight intact but became blind after being injected. What made them blind?  The injection? These are some of the posers  the hospital  and the National Agency for Foods , Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) must unravel to ascertain the cause of  the 10  patients’ blindness. Life has been tough for them since they lost their sight

NAFDAC has begun to analyse samples of the said Russian-made injection administered on them, but  they are asking that the process be expedited. Seven of them  have been discharged and  are now outpatients.

But, the remaining three  have refused  to leave the hospital until they regain their sight.

Speaking on Sunday with The Nation, the Kaduna 10 said   they came to the hospital with their sight, but lost it immediately after being injected on May 28.

They urged the Federal Government to intervene by finding ways to restore their sight, even if it means flying them abroad.

They also demanded an investigation of the incident, to prevent a recurrence.

One of them, who is a commercial tricyclist and the breadwinner of his family, Zakariah Idzy, said he did not want to become permanently blind. He said his family of nine had been living on support from neighbours and church members since his predicament started.

Idzy, from Sanga local government area of Kaduna State,  said before he came to the hospital, he could see, explaining that his right eye was becoming blurry, especially at night, but nothing was wrong with the left one. “But after the injection, I could no longer see with the two eyes.”

He said:  “I came to the hospital not because I was blind. Before I came here, I could see clearly with my left eye. The problem was that, I could not see clearly with the right eye, then in the evening it will become worse. So, one day, exactly two months ago, I came here and I was checked. They told me I had cataract and that I will need surgery, then I was given an appointment and told to bring money that day.

“When I came back on the appointment date, I was told that the operation was no longer going to take place but instead will be given three injections on each of the two eyes. That, each of the six injections will cost N14,500, excluding money for other drugs like eye drops.

“On hearing that, I became helpless, and called my relatives to help me raise the money. Luckily, I was able to raise the money. So, I was given the first dose of the injection on my left eye. To my surprise, I had problem on my right eye, but they started giving me injection on the left. When I raised question about it, they told me, it was to first prevent the infection spreading to it from the right eye.

“To tell you how very good my sight was, I came by myself that day, I was given the injection, and I was given another one month appointment when I will be given two injections, one on each eye. So, that day, I went back home on my own without any problem and waited until the next appointment.

“On the next appointment date, I came with my daughter, because right from the very first date, I was told not to come alone again. So, we were taken to the theatre, about 11 of us were on the row that day. I was given the two injections one on each eye. But, contrary to the first experience, right from the theatre, I started losing my sight, but I just concluded within myself that, it was going to wear off within an hour, that, it could be as a result of the fact that, the two eyes were injected.

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“So, my daughter took me back home. Throughout that day, my vision was very blurred. I could not sleep that night due to headache. I have never experienced such headache in my entire life; as if my head was going to blow off. Then around 4am the following day, I just saw as if they waved something through my face, then I tried harder to see what passed through my face, that was the last thing I saw. Since that time, that is about three weeks ago, I have not seen anything again.

“Immediately that happened, I called for my wife and asked her to call my church Pastor, I told him to come as soon as possible, because I am in a critical condition. So, he came and prayed for me together with my family. But, unfortunately, that day was a public holiday, so, we could not come to the hospital. The next day, I was brought back to the hospital, the service that day was still skeletal, because they said it was not a clinic day. But, I met one worker  who use to assist me whenever I come to the hospital. When we narrated my ordeal to him, he wrote one eye drop and asked my daughter to go and buy it at the pharmacy. He dropped some into my eyes and asked us to go home and be using the eye drop until the following day.

“We left the hospital that day, we were already around Kabala Junction, when that man called my phone, asking us to come back. On getting to the hospital, I was told that, the rest of us that were given the injection had also returned with the same problem.

“Some were luckier than the rest of us, because, it was their first doses of the injection, so only one eye which was injected was affected. We were then, taken back to the theatre for re-examination and washing of the eyes, but nothing happened. Between that time and now, they have washed my eyes four times, there is still no difference, the same thing with other people too.

“Now, only few of us are remaining in the hospital; others have been discharged with their condition, they only put them on appointment, but the rest of us refused to leave, because, our condition has not improved. We want our eyes restored and told what happened; there is no way we will accept coming for solution and our situation made worse.

“They would have forcefully discharged us too, but I had earlier invited my uncle who is a DSS operative. He came here and told the management that, they must admit us, treat us and feed us free until we regain our sight. But, as I speak to you, they have stopped giving me food. And when I asked one of the doctors this morning, he said, it must be an oversight; still they didn’t bring food for me this afternoon too, am still waiting for dinner,” he said.

Idzy underwent another corrective surgery on Tuesday, but did not regain his sight.

Another patient, a female, expressed  concern about what she called poor response to emergencies by institutions in the country.

The septuagenarian patient said she won’t blame the hospital for her plight, pointing out that  they could not have deliberately administered contaminated drug on her.

She said:, “I took myself to the hospital with my two eyes but now I can’t see with any of them after receiving the injection. The hospital must investigate what happened and find a solution to it urgently. “But, I am not in anyway blaming the hospital for the mistake of injecting us with the drug. I believe they could not have deliberately injected their patients with damaged drug. But, what I have an issue with is poor response to emergency. In other climes, they would have quickly investigated the cause of the blindness and known what to do to correct it.”

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The patient added: “Quick intervention of the government to know the cause of the blindness will go a long way towards preventing future occurrence of the problem and finding solution to our own travail. The investigation will unravel whether the drug we were injected with, became contaminated at the point of production, procurement or administration.”

Jonathan Yahaya, whose one eye is affected, said the hospital owed them concrete explanation on what happened to their eyes. “I know, something certainly went wrong, it is either we were injected with an expired drug or the drug may have been contaminated or infected. The hospital owes us explanations. After that, they must restore our sight.

“I have received the injection three times and this is my fourth time. But before the injection, I could see with my two eyes, only that, I had a little challenge with one of the eyes and that is the one that I have been receiving treatment. I received the injection on that eye, it suddenly became blind and this is the situation we have found ourselves.”

He confirmed that they were being fed and treated free by the hospital.  “It is true, they are treating us free since the incident happened and we are being fed but the situation of our eyes has remained the same and that is our worries, not food. If I regain my sight, I will go back home and feed myself.”

Hajara Hussaini said she had received the injection twice and was receiving it for the third time when the problem began. Hussaini could also see before she received the said injection.

Narrating her own story, a retired civil servant who does not want to be named said: “This is the sixth injection I am receiving. I had received four in another hospital, I also received one in April here at the National Eye Centre and came for another one in May that resulted in this blindness. Normally, the injection is taken once monthly. On Mondays you come for dilation and if the eyes are okay for the injection, you will be asked to come back the next day for the injection. I came like other victims on Monday and after the dilation, I was okayed for the injection.

“I went back home and came back the next day, paid the bills and alongside other 10 people was taken to the theatre for the injection. Ten of us were given the same injection and the other one was given a separate injection.

“After taking the injection, I went back home and started feeling my eyes tearing out and about 11pm same day, I could no longer see anything. The next day at about 7pm I was rushed back to the hospital and after explaining what happened, I was admitted and my eyes were examined. It was then they started calling others who received the same injection to come back to the hospital. They all came back with the same situation: all not seeing again with the injected eyes. We were taken back to the theatre. In fact, the hospital management tried for us; our eyes were thoroughly washed but there was no solution. We were again taken back to the theatre but the situation has remained the same.” she said.

But, the hospital says it has embarked on “thorough investigation” to unravel the circumstances that led to the incident.

Its Chief Medical Director (CMD), Dr. Mahmoud Alhassan, was quoted as saying that the hospital had been injecting other patients with the same drug without any problem. “The injection they were given is the same drug we used to give to patients to reduce bleeding in the eye, especially for diabetics and other patients.

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“Interestingly, this is the second, third and last time some of them are taking this particular drug and these reactions just took place. The drug is made by Russians. One of the patients complained that her vision had gone down so she came and we thought it was abnormal reactions; we treated it as an infection. We took actions and gave them drugs.

“The point is that these eyes are severely affected eyes. Their vision is poor and we are trying to help them. We have been talking to them and doing our best but it might take two to three months to achieve the desired results because eyes heal gradually. They will be able to get them back,” he said.

“In fact, two of them are very happy now because their situation is better than it was before. Aside the medical efforts we are making, we are also carrying out necessary investigation, we are not happy with the situation and we will address it accordingly.

“We still have to clean the eyes, their vision will come back,” the CMD said.

The   NAFDAC investigation, it was learnt, may not be of help because  the batch of the injection administered on the patients is exhausted. It is not among the samples being also examined.

The implication is that if the batch administered on the patients was the only faulty one, the cause of their blindness will not be unravelled.

But, a source in NAFDAC said investigations were ongoing, adding that the outcome will be made public by the Director-General or the management of the National Eye Centre.

The Nation gathered that the injection administered on the patients is called AVASTIN, and was made in Russia,   Avastin it was gathered, is a cancer drug said to have caused blindness in the United States in 2011.

New York Times in a report, titled: “Avastin injection are reported to cause blindness”  on Page B3 of its New York edition on August 31, 2011 and on its online portal on August 30, 2011, said: “At least 16 people in two states have gotten severe eye infections, and some have been blinded, from injections of the drug Avastin, according to health authorities and to lawyers representing the patients.

“The incidents, in Florida and Tennessee, demonstrate the risks associated with the money-saving practice of injecting Avastin into the eye to treat the wet form of age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of severe vision loss in the elderly.

“Avastin, sold by Genentech, is approved to treat cancer, not eye disease. But many retina specialists use Avastin off label because it costs only about $50 an injection, compared with $2,000 for Lucentis, another Genentech drug that has the same mode of action and is approved as an eye treatment.

“The off-label use of Avastin has saved medicare and patients hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But dividing a vial of Avastin into numerous tiny doses for injection into the eye introduces the risk of bacterial contamination. That is apparently what has happened in the cases in Florida and Tennessee.”

Like what happened in Florida and Tennessee, the division of a vial of Avastin into numerous tiny doses to inject the patients’ eyes, The Nation  observed, may have led to bacterial contamination, which is probably responsible for the blindness of the Kaduna 10. But, the mystery is left for the authority to unravel and correct.

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