Dr. Sawyer was in West Africa from December 1926 to mid-June 1927, serving as director of the West African Yellow Fever Commission
while Dr. Henry Beeuwkes was on leave. Here he described a busy week investigating a yellow fever epidemic in a nearby village.
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4 (312,664 Bytes)
1927-05-19 (May 19, 1927)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
From Hookworm to Yellow Fever: Rockefeller Foundation, 1919-1927
I have been having my busiest week. Now that Dr. Hansen has sailed after hunting for 18 months for yellow fever in natives
in vain, suspicious cases are being heard from on right and left. A week ago we heard of an epidemic of a disease with yellow
eyes, black vomit, etc. in the native village of Iwopin (IWOPIN) on the lagoon east of here. Dr. Hansen was afraid he would
miss his ship if he went, and so I pushed off in the early morning in a fine government launch. There is a wonderful system
of connecting lagoons extending from Dahomey and beyond on the west to the Niger delta on the east. The sea has closed the
mouths of the rivers and built up a long low ridge or dyke. Behind it lie the lagoons after which Lagos was named. They
connect with the sea on both sides of the island of Lagos, but you can sail eastward in the lagoon for a whole day without
finding another opening, and after a couple of hours the water becomes fresh and is used for drinking purposes by the natives.
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I sailed through this inland lagoon in the "Manatee", the sole passenger in a government launch with a crew of nine,
all native. In many places we saw native fishermen with their casting nets in dug out canoes. As we came near we would see
the flash of paddles in the sun as they made a rush toward the course of the boat as if they were a horde of naked cannibals
bent on intercepting us. As we went by they threw their casting nets, like hammer throwers in a track meet, straight toward
the boat. Apparently the boat disturbs the fish so that they are more easily caught.
At Iwopin we found a clerk of the Bales court who talked English. It was late when we arrived and it would soon be dark.
We visited first a house where an old man was convalescent from the disease in the care of a small boy aged about seven.
In a back compartment of the mudwalled hut was a corpse wrapped in a gay cloth and many layers of sheets. We had them bring
it out into the fading light, but it was too far gone to examine. The people wanted to bury it in the house, a la Westminster
Abbey, but it had been forbidden. They were keeping it hoping to get a special dispensation by sending a two day's journey
to the headquarters of the district. We told them to bury it outside and I think they did.
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I forgot to mention that a Dr. Price of the government service joined me at a place called Epe, and participated in the investigation.
For two days we went through the village, visiting every house, inspecting every room, and interrogating all the natives who
had not run into the bush for fear we would take them to hospital or make them pay taxes. The epidemic was apparently over
but we obtained records of about sixty of the cases and six deaths. We slept on the boat.
On the way home I went ashore at another village and found they had just had four deaths from a similar illness.
I reached Lagos on Sunday afternoon and saw Dr. Hansen sail on the French line. The next morning I learned of a case somewhat
like one of yellow fever at the African Hospital. We took his blood for cultures, and yesterday I did the post mortem examination.
It looks like yellow fever to me, and if it proves to be when the specimens have been examined, it will be the first case
found by this commission in natives in Nigeria since its arrival.
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When I reached the compound with my specimens I found a wire from Dr. Bauer, whom I had sent to the Gold Coast, asking me
to let Mr. Batchelder, the laboratory assistant, go to Accra. Apparently they are having quite an epidemic in natives and
scattered cases in Europeans and Syrians. So I am letting him go to-day. That will leave only myself of the scientific staff
to cover Nigeria until Dr. Beeuwkes and Dr. Stokes arrive a week from now.
Doesn't that all sound interesting? Whether it is interesting or not, it keeps me very busy; and, if I don't stop
now, this day will get a wrong start.
Please leave about $500 in the checking account so that I can draw against it if necessary. I shall not do so for another
month and a half, unless for small amounts, but I may need money when I get to Paris. I expect to sail on the French boat
leaving June 21, one month from to-morrow. I am glad you have invested the thousand.
P.S. Enclosed is a puzzle for you and the children, entitled "find the southern cross." Keep it for my album.