(Health & Drugs)
OUTBREAKS OF infectious diseases and epidemics are no longer new to Nigerians. The country has been known to have experienced her fair share of epidemics in times past and has equally contributed to disease burdens in the world.
For example, the country has only recently survived the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) which ravaged the West African countries of Guinea, Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria and in which more than 11,000 people died, including nearly 4,000 in Sierra Leone alone and eight in Nigeria.
Hardly has the EVD been conquered and the country declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that a new set of epidemics are raring their heads; Lassa Fever, Measles, Meningitis, the deadly Bird flu and of course, the seeming fear of Zika virus (albeit not in Nigeria yet, but already a global health challenge).
It is no doubt a season of viral and haemorrhagic infections in the country and a time everyone should be on guard.
Health Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole during his recent official visit to some parts of the North East, acknowledged, “There is sincerely a failure of health surveillance system” and promised to ensure an improvement in this regard.
Haemorrhagic diseases are known to be transmitted from humans and this include: Lassa Fever.
At the last count, nearly 80 people have been reportedly killed by the outbreak of the disease in 19 states of the country and the disease is still spreading so also other diseases such as Measles and Meningitis taken scores of lives across the country.
Experts have blamed everyone including government on the recent epidemics saying, “There is a gradual collapse of surveillance system in the country” and that everyone is guilty of neglecting environmental and self-hygiene”.
Some have even argued that man’s encroachment and disorientation of nature as well as disruption of the natural habitation of some animals could be traced to the cause of resurgence of certain epidemics such as Lassa Fever, Zika Virus Fever among others.
It is a known fact that outbreaks are not uncommon as he US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 100,000-300,000 infections in West Africa every year, with about 5,000 deaths.
In 2012, there were 1,723 Lassa cases and 112 deaths in Nigeria. Last year, 12 people died out of 375 infected, according to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.
The Lassa virus for instance is known spread through contact with food or household items contaminated with rats’ urine or faeces.
According to the Director Health Education, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Mrs Omowunmi George, “It is known that human being are infected with Lassa virus when they come in contact with the droppings of infected rodents such as rats and this can in turn be spread to others by an infected person when his blood, urine, feaces or other fluids touch those of other people”.
George who addressed hundreds of School teachers in the state told Healthstyleplus why the method was chosen saying, “we expect the teachers to go back to their schools to reach the several millions of school children with the correct messages about how Lassa Fever is contracted and spread.
“Children have been known to be change agents in that they often help spread information the learnt in school at the community level which is all we need at a time as this”, said George.
Speaking on the outbreak of Measles in the country, Research Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Lagos Dr Adeshina Adeiga told Healthstyleplus, “Intensive Measles vaccination of the children especially those under two years in every community would have prevented the outbreak. This is largely a Local Government affair with the backing of the State government”.
According to Adeiga, “The situation got out hand because of the rate of spread of the disease was high and of course, there was low immunity among the children vaccinated that would have aided the spread and probably there was a large number of unvaccinated children too.
“Besides, poor nutrition among children would have contributed to weak antibodies generated after vaccination”, Adeiga lamented.
The Consultant Immunologist blamed both poor health system and families as well as communities for the recent outbreak.
“The local governments and the State government have been giving low priority to health and only respond to emergencies as face-saving measure “said Adeiga.
He pointed out that the non-procurement of appropriate vaccines at the right time, poor storage facilities in some areas, non-vaccination of many children among others are some of the contending issues coupled with non-cooperation of families and communities to ensure all children receive measles immunisation have aided the spread of the disease.
But Lagos Commissioner for Health, Jide Idris assured residence of government readiness to curb the spread of all the diseases in the shortest possible time.
Idris also pleaded with residence to step up level of personal and environmental hygiene.
“We are committed to engage in education and enlightenment campaigns on diseases prevention in the estate just we shall henceforth increase our surveillance on diseases”, he said at a media briefing.
If the promise made by the Health Minister Adewole would be fulfilled, Nigeria expects to see a rejuvenated health systems and surveillance in the shortest possible time with the recent setting up of Lassa Disease Prevention Committee by the Health Minister.