• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Winning the war against Lassa fever


To halt the spread of Lassa fever, which has swept across Nigeria with an amazing speed in the past couple of weeks, and prevent its future occurrence, all hands must be on deck.

Lassa fever, named after Lassa village in Borno State where the first cases occurred, was first discovered in 1969 following the death of two missionary nurses in the country. However, the first case of the current outbreak was reported in Bauchi last November, followed by cases reported in Kano and Niger States, and subsequently in other states. So far, the “number of suspected cases is 93, number of laboratory confirmed cases is 25 and the number of reported deaths is 43, with a case fatality of 44.0 percent”, according to Isaac Adewole, minister of health. The disease has also spread to 20 states, including Abuja and Lagos, where 92 persons have been placed on 21-day compulsory monitoring by the State Ministry of Health following the confirmation of a Lassa fever case in the state.

While we mourn with the families who have lost loved ones in the present outbreak of the fever, we call on government and its relevant agencies to up their game in the area of disease prevention and control. That an ailment which was discovered in the country about 47 years, and which has resurfaced virtually every year since then, could resurge and kill people with such an amazing speed despite advancement in medicine demonstrates government negligence over the years.

Even in the current outbreak, negligence by health officials in Bauchi, Kano and Niger States has been fingered as responsible for the rapid spread of the disease. The inability of Bauchi, Kano and Niger States to report cases in their domain early enough made it impossible for the Ministry of Health to respond promptly to the situation. This silence helped spread the virus to other states. According to one report, “While patients were dying, villagers quickly buried the deceased quietly due to various cultural misconceptions among other factors. The death of about 43 persons appears to have woken the authorities from slumber, as health officials now scramble to curtail the deadly virus.”

We commend the efforts made so far to curtail the spread of the fever, such as raising a four-man expert committee to embark on a fact-finding mission to Kano, Niger and Bauchi, the three most endemic states, with a view to assessing the current situation, documenting response experiences, identifying gaps and proffering recommendations on how to prevent future occurrences; immediate release of adequate quantities of ribavirin, the specific antiviral drug for Lassa fever, to all the affected states for prompt and adequate treatment of cases; deployment of rapid response teams from the Ministry of Health to all the affected states to assist in investigating and verifying the cases as well as tracing of contacts; intense awareness creation on the signs and symptoms as well as preventive measure; and the planned establishment of an inter-ministerial committee to deliver a final blow on Lassa fever and other related diseases in the long term.

In addition to these, however, we urge state governments, non-governmental organisations, the civil society, community leaders and faith-based organisations to mount holistic and aggressive sensitisation at markets, restaurants, neighbourhoods, communities, offices and schools as was done during the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak.

For their part, individuals must observe good personal hygiene, including hand washing with soap and running water regularly; dispose their waste properly and clean the environment so that rats are not attracted; improve on their food hygiene and food protection practices; avoid contact with rodents as well as food contaminated with rat’s secretions and excretions; avoid drying food in the open and along roadsides; cover all foods to prevent rodent contamination, among other preventive measures. In addition, people must present themselves for test whenever they feel unhealthy or feel symptoms like high fever, stooling, tiredness, vomiting, etc.

These times call for high-level vigilance and commitment. As such, Nigerians must awaken the spirit with which we dealt with Ebola. That Ebola experience showed how the collective actions of Nigerians can produce great outcomes and performance. We have done it before, we can do it again.