In Ivory Coast, children killed by a fetish for the villagers, by a bacterium for the authorities

“During the night, my grandson felt bad

In Ivory Coast, children killed by a fetish for the villagers, by a bacterium for the authorities

“During the night, my grandson felt bad. In the morning he was dead. In the past two months, around 20 residents of Kpo-Kahankro, in central Côte d'Ivoire, have died suddenly - mostly children. Between mystical beliefs and bacterial contamination, concern persists in the village.

“In one night, my grandson was taken away. A child who was 1 year and a few months old and who barely walked, ”continues, still incredulous, Amena Djaha to AFP. Sitting under a mango tree, this grandmother who speaks the Baoulé language remembers, with a blank stare, this disastrous night. In this village near Bouaké, on December 2, six children suddenly began to vomit, stiffen, roll their eyes before dying suddenly within hours.

At the end of January, as soon as the shock subsided in the village, about fifteen people, mostly children and a few elderly people, died suddenly in the same circumstances. Dozens of villagers are hospitalized in Bouaké. "People came knocking on my door and shouting, 'History begins again!' “, recalls Dorothée Kouamé Ahou. A tear rolls down her cheek as she recounts how she lost her 3-year-old granddaughter. "I haven't even been able to see my little princess since she died. I miss her,” says the 46-year-old grandmother.

A notable and a "witch doctor" sentenced

"It's something mystical," says the village chief, Nanan Koffi Patrice. In Kpo-Kahankro, the question is beyond doubt: it is a fetish present in François Kouamé Kouadio, a notable of the village, who is at the origin of the misfortunes which strike the community. A thesis taken up to the court of Bouaké, which condemned Thursday, after two hours of hearing, Mr. Kouadio and the "fetisher" accused of having installed the object to five years in prison for "acts of charlatanism and disturbing public order”.

Faced with the crisis, members of the government have traveled to Kpo-Kahankro on several occasions. The fetish was taken out of the ground in early February and autopsies were carried out on some corpses which have still not been returned to their families. For the authorities, it is a contamination with clostridium, a bacterium which would have been found on the fetish and which can cause severe symptoms on children and the elderly. The official death toll is sixteen, but the villagers count 21, including 18 children.

The authorities' conclusion does not clear up all the gray areas. "I'm glad the fetish was unearthed, that's what killed our children," said Amena Djaha. “But my grandson has never had contact with this object. He barely walked and never left the yard, ”continues the one who lives several hundred meters from the point of contamination. The villagers are all formal: there was no ceremony around the fetish bringing together children or people who later fell ill.

"I pray it doesn't come back"

So how could Clostridium contamination spread to so many children in the village? “All a child needs to do is come into contact with the bacteria and then put their hands in their mouth to get sick. It can contaminate toys, objects and therefore other children, ”explains Joseph Bénié Bi Vroh, director of the National Institute of Public Hygiene (INHP), who supervised the analyzes.

Faced with this mysterious epidemic, the village, whose school had closed and which had been emptied of its inhabitants, is gradually being repopulated. Last week, the fetish was moved out of Kpo-Kahankro. Running water, cut for several days to carry out additional analyses, was restored on Thursday.

Since then, the deaths have stopped, without however completely dispelling the anguish of the villagers. "Of course we're scared!" There was almost a month of slack between the two events where there were deaths, ”recalls Paul Kouassi, the president of a youth association. And the village chief sighed, "I pray it doesn't come back. Our children aren't even buried yet. »