• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Government’s neglect fuels cholera crisis in Nigeria – experts

Nigeria drowning in neglect: Floods, cholera, and the urgent need for action

Experts are attributing Nigeria’s worsening cholera epidemic to significant government neglect of basic health needs, poor living conditions, and widespread poverty.

With a substantial portion of the Nigerian population living in multidimensional poverty and unhygienic environments, experts argue that the government’s public health approach is mostly reactive rather than proactive.

Critics said that instead of investing in preventive measures and infrastructure, governments often scramble to respond to outbreaks only after they have spiraled out of control.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reports over 1,528 suspected cholera cases across 31 states, with Lagos state alone recording 29 deaths and 579 suspected cases.

Read also: NCDC activates emergency centre as cholera death toll reaches 53

Other severely affected states include Bayelsa, Zamfara, Abia, Cross River, Bauchi, Delta, Katsina, Imo, and Nasarawa, where local governments are struggling to contain the disease’s spread.

Nigeria’s healthcare sector remains persistently underfunded, with many public healthcare facilities in poor condition, lacking essential supplies, equipment, and trained personnel.

In the hardest-hit areas, hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed, often facing shortages of beds, rehydration solutions, and antibiotics, leading to high mortality rates.

Larne Yusuf, a medical doctor in Lagos, criticised the government’s response to public health issues as largely reactive. “Their failure to invest in healthcare infrastructure and preventive measures has left the population vulnerable to cholera and other preventable diseases,” Yusuf said. “This neglect is costing lives and causing unnecessary suffering.”

Yusuf pointed out that multidimensional poverty in Nigeria is a significant driver of the cholera epidemic. “When people live without access to clean water, proper sanitation, and adequate housing, they are more susceptible to waterborne diseases like cholera,” he explained.

The prevalence of open defecation and inadequate waste management systems in many urban slums and rural areas forces residents to rely on contaminated water sources. During the rainy season, flooding exacerbates the contamination of water supplies, spreading cholera bacteria more widely.

The impact of the cholera epidemic on Nigerian publics is devastating. Lagos states severely affected by the outbreak, residents share distressing stories of loss and despair.

Doyin Odubanjo, Public health expert, based in Lagos emphasized that diseases like cholera are diseases of poverty/underdevelopment because it is expected that it is the poor that do not (or are unable) to maintain a hygienic environment.

“Cholera happens when feaces get into the food or water consumed by people. I said underdevelopment also because, apart from maintaining personal hygiene, we can’t even guarantee the safety of water/food even in highbrow areas in VI, Ikoyi, or Lekki as there is no pipe-borne water from the government and the people use water from various uncertified sources.”

“There is also no centralized waste disposal system.”

“Cholera is deadly, but the current outbreak is caused by a strain of the bacteria that is even quite deadlier.

“The only way to be proactive with cholera is to ensure proper urban and rural development with good waste disposal and pipe-borne water. Health education, generally, will also help,” he said.

The cholera epidemic in Nigeria has garnered international attention, with organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) providing critical support. These organizations have set up cholera treatment centers, distributed clean water, and conducted mass vaccination campaigns in affected areas.

Earlier in a statement while responding to the outbreak in Lagos state, Celine Lafoucrier, chief of UNICEF Lagos field office said disease outbreaks ultimately hinder Nigeria’s progress in achieving health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 3, which focuses on ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all.

“These outbreaks strain Nigeria’s health system, diverting limited resources from essential services like routine immunizations and maternal and childcare, undermining universal health coverage.

“Outbreaks disrupt health programs, leading to resurgences of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria, which hinder efforts to reduce child mortality and control epidemics.

“Economically, outbreaks shift funds from primary healthcare to emergency response, causing economic downturns that reduce health budgets and government revenues, further straining health services,” she said.

However, Lafoucrier added that outbreaks also present opportunities to strengthen Nigeria’s health system.

“A robust response is needed to improve health infrastructure, enhance economic resilience, and ensure equitable access to health services.

“This is essential for mitigating the impact of outbreaks and progressing towards sustainable health outcomes,” she said.