Cholera is not novel in terms of disease nomenclature but its recurrence in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, calls for urgent attention to forestall deaths caused by the infection.
Although it is one of many preventable diseases, cholera has, once again, presented itself, taken charge of the wheel, spreading its arms rapidly like a yam tendril in the rainy season and may likely steer Nigeria to another health crisis if immediate steps are not taken to stem its tide.
Amid growing security challenges and surging cases of COVID-19, cholera has continued to hit communities across Nigeria, posing threat to the realization of the sixth Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6) targeted at achieving universal access to water as well as adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation by 2030.
While countries across the globe are exploring innovations in water treatment technology, Africa’s most populous country is still grappling with cholera, which should have long gone extinct.
The water-borne infection is said to be caused by the intake of food or drinking water contaminated by feces from a person infected with cholera bacteria. Investigations, over time, have shown that cholera occurs and spreads quickly in areas with poor water treatment, poor sanitation, and poor hygiene.
Of Nigeria’s 36 states, 18 states and the Federal Capital Territory have reported suspected cholera cases in 2021. The states are Bayelsa, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Plateau, Nasarawa, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
As against a total of 19,305 suspected cases reported in the first two weeks of July, an update of the cholera outbreak released by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) revealed that as of July 22, 2021, a total of 22,130 suspected cases and 526 deaths were recorded with Bauchi, Kano and Sokoto States leading the chart.
Cholera is a Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH)-centric illness, hence access to clean, potable water and good hygiene practices are essential to ending cholera-related deaths.
As figures of cases surge, it is imperative for Nigerians, particularly those who don’t have access to potable water, to keep tabs on what to do to prevent being contaminated.
“The simple solution is to pay attention to infrastructural developments, especially, in this case, the provision of adequate, potable water supply. Water is a basic necessity of life and there is no nation that can conquer cholera without attending to adequate water supply, particularly potable water,” says Omokhoa Adeleye, a professor of public health and community medicine at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH).
Advising Nigerians on ways to adopt in preventing the illness, he said: “The key methods are handwashing with soap before eating. Also, wash your hands immediately after using the toilet. For fingernails, ensure they are washed and neat; the longer your fingernails, the more dirt is trapped underneath. This must be part of our regular habits.
Adeleye, who stressed the need for the availability of safe, potable water in the fight against cholera, however, noted that the cholera outbreak is a sign of failure of the government.
According to him, the simple solution is to provide pipe-borne water or potable water everywhere across the nation. It is not only about drugs but water. It is when potable water is available that Nigeria can succeed inadequate sanitation and fight cholera.
“You cannot talk about sanitation without an adequate water supply. Our waste disposal method needs to be addressed.
There is also a need for massive mobilization against open defecation. Some of these practices have their roots in culture and so, some level of education is required in order to achieve that.
The medical expert further said “There is no special way of addressing it, individuals and families need education. There is also a need for people to use social media, conventional media, and other forms of media outlets, including community education methods, town hall meetings to discuss with community leaders towards the elimination of cholera from Nigeria.
“We need to make efforts, within the family and at the community level without waiting for the government, to make water available. We should try as much as possible to drink clean water not water taken directly from the stream. Stream water cannot be trusted and that is because, in many communities, people stool into the stream.”