Sierra Leone: Health Issue

18 September 2019

When Mighty Blackpool Football Club in Sierra Leone former footballer, Tombo Juice heard about young Juma Jalloh's football potentials, he immediately got him for trials at the Craig Bellamy Football Academy. Located at Tombo, a small fishing village that is a two-hour drive from the capital, Freetown, Juma instantly made an impact when on his first week at the Academy, he scored a goal for his team. He became an immediate sensation. The coaches asked for his passport-sized photograph for him to be enrolled at the Academy. Unfortunately, it did not happen. The then 15-year-old Juma, like previously, got sick and had to return to his parents in the city.

Juma had big dreams. He wanted to play football and make it big at the international scene in Europe. He modelled himself around his icon, the German International and Vice-Captain of Bayern Munich, Thomas Muller. In England, he thought about playing for either Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal. In Spain, he was undecided as to whether he should go to Real Madrid or their arch rivals, Barcelona. Bayern Munich was obviously on his mind if he were to go to Germany. From this long list, Juma, who started as a local celebrity featuring on many three-aside football leagues along street corners and dusty makeshift football turfs at Dundas Street, was determined that he was going to be the next big news out of Sierra Leone. He wanted to be remembered after the exploits of Mohamed Kallon who played for Inter Milan and Monaco in Europe.

However, that dream fell apart when almost a decade ago, in 2010, he started suffering from several ailments that even led him to seek 'traditional' treatment. Juma was made to believe that some evil people had used fetish on him to kill his football career. From one thing to another, his worst fears came to pass. At the Emergency Hospital at Goderich, the consultant who diagnosed his severe health complications warned against surgery in Freetown. He was adamant in his conclusions that Juma was going to die due to the inadequate medical facilities and expertise at hand to carry out such a complex procedure that is required to save the boy's life.

Juma's parents were not in a position to help save his life. The dad is a motor mechanic. His daily earnings are not even enough to keep food on the table at home. The mother, a cookery seller, could not make enough money to take care of the medical bills let alone fly him out of the country. As Juma's situation deteriorated, all the family could offer were; tears, prayers, hope and more tears.

Back in 2010, another upcoming team, FC Milan had tapped Juma to play for them. The team invited him to start training with them at the Prince of Wales (POW) school at King Tom. By then, Juma had graduated from his primary school, Buxton Municipal, not far from his house on Dundas Street to the United Muslim Association Secondary School (UMASS) at Sorie Town, and was in Form Two.

On his first week of training with FC Milan, Juma who liked to play as an attacker and bang in goals for his teammates while celebrating with his No. 25 jersey like Thomas Muller, was tackled by an opponent. He was left with bruises and some pain. Juma brushed these off and kept on playing. At home, the pain could not go away, and this time, he bought some 500 milligrams of the pain-killer, Voltic, with the hope that it would make him feel better. The next day, Juma noticed he had a swelling on his stomach. He took the medication over and over again, but the pain did not subside.

During his first visit at the Emergency Hospital, Juma was examined, but since they could not identify what was wrong with him, he was referred to the Connaught Hospital for further diagnosis. In the absence of the right medical equipment to ascertain what his situation was, Connaught Hospital could only prescribe medication for Juma him to take.

With a now protruded stomach, and after several trials of fetish as well as prescribed medication from the government's primary referral at Connaught, Juma returned to the Emergency Hospital in 2016 with the hope that this time, they were going to identify what his sickness was. A nurse who recognised him as a previous patient that had been referred to Connaught Hospital insisted that Juma should return home. This he did but after begging and getting some drugs from the nurse. Three months later, and with a new name, Mohamed O Jalloh, he met little resistance when he revisited. The old nurses had left, and the new ones could not recognise him. They got the new Italian Doctor, Dr Marco to see him. Marko recommended for some scanning on him. Afterwards, he identified kidney complication as the problem, and since the hospital does not have the right equipment to treat him, the medical practitioner suggested for treatment abroad.

Juma has made several efforts through the media to attract caring people to his plight including government officials. With the help of AYV health journalist- Swahilo Vandi, SLBC's Lucian Ganda, Darren Cummings, Mariama Bah-Sowe, and other kind-hearted people, the public joined in several efforts to raise funds to fly him out. However, monies raised were not enough to pay for his medical expenses abroad. Funds received are still kept at Juma's bank account.

At school, he could not make the grades because of his constant absence from classes. At some point, his mother burnt his football boots, jerseys and other equipment out of fear that football was the root of her son's problems. In a state of distress, he no longer watches football at the various video clubs broadcasting games of the English Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, and the Champions League. He has not been at the National Stadium to watch matches of the ongoing Premier League though he would have loved to do so.

Recently, he was bitten by a scorpion in the middle of the night while asleep. This triggered his medical woes, and he had to resort to taking drugs- drugs that have not helped to make his situation better.

Medical situation aside, Juma's ramshackle house on Dundas street sits on a time bomb waiting to explode especially during the rains when the whole area is flooded. Not once, not twice, Juma and his family had woken up to flooding and had it not been for the timely intervention of neighbours, they may have perished.

As it is now, Juma can no longer follow the footsteps of Mohamed Kallon, Junior Parade, or Kei Kamara. His chances of playing in Europe have evaporated. However, Juma Jalloh or Mohamed O Jalloh needs help. He has waited for almost a decade to be cured. No thanks to our faulty healthcare system that is in itself, in a comatose state, the now 23-year-old continues to battle with his medical predicament.

Juma Jalloh can and must be saved. Juma loosely translated to mean the congregational Friday prayers of Islam is hopeful that he would be cured if only some Good Samaritan came to his rescue and fly him abroad for treatment. Dr, Marco, the Italian Doctor he met at the Emergency Hospital at Goderich believes he will get well if treated elsewhere.

If you believe as much as Dr Marco does, then, let's not wait to pay glowing tributes to what a superstar Juma would have been. Let's do something to save his life or else...

Darren Cummings is Juma Jalloh's contact person. He could be reached on + 447957630184 or darrenc235@gmail.com

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