The re-emergence of the deadly Lassa fever late last year has posed serious concerns to Abuja and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in general, because of its proximity with two of the affected states; Nasarawa and Kogi states.
Since the onset of the epidemic in December 2016 in various West African countries including Nigeria, 501 cases have been recorded as it has claimed 104 lives as at June 9, 2017 and the figures have been rising. During the current outbreak, 17 states have been hit by the disease and they include Anambra, Bauchi and Borno states, as well as Cross-River, Ebonyi and Edo states.
Similarly, Enugu, Gombe and Kaduna states have been affected, including Kano, Kogi and Nasarawa states. In addition, Ogun, Ondo, Plateau, Rivers, and Taraba have reported at least one confirmed case.
Experts said the disease is being transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with rodents’ urine or faeces. According to them, person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur. As part of the proactive measures to stem the spread of the disease, the World Health Organization(WHO) has advised health care workers to always apply standard infection prevention and control precautions when caring for patients, regardless of their presumed diagnosis. According to WHO, prevention of the disease in the larger society relies on promoting good community hygiene to discourage rodents from entering homes.
FCT allays fears
Consequently, the enforcement of strict sanitation exercise would go a long way to prevent an outbreak in the country at large. Unfortunately, the FCT has not been observing the monthly environmental exercise for many years now. As a result, many other sanitation programmes that the authorities had put in place have collapsed due to lack of strict enforcement.
Recently, a rumored outbreak of Lassa Fever in the FCT caused pandemonium in the territory, raising serious concerns on the death toll it will exact if the epidemic surfaces, especially in the satellite towns where environmental sanitation remains a huge challenge. In a swift reaction, Dr Humphrey Okoroukwu, the FCT Director of Public Health, had dismissed the rumour as “false,” saying FCT has not yet recorded any case of the Fever.
Speaking with newsmen in Abuja, Okoroukwu explained that some samples of the suspected cases reported in Asokoro General Hospital were taken to Irrua Laboratory in Edo State and the result was negative. However, as at last month, the result of another suspected case that was admitted in one of the hospitals in FCT was being awaited.
Significantly, Dr Okoroukwu explained the proactive measures that FCT is taking to keep the disease at bay. According to him, the FCTA has deployed its Health Promotion Education Team to sensitise residents in markets, motor parks, schools and streets on the causes and symptoms on Lassa fever. Similarly, he said that his department had begun Facility-Based Clinical Sensitisations in hospitals to educate medical personnel and other health workers about the disease.
House-to-house inspection to the rescue
According to experts, the anti-dote to the epidemic is community hygiene, where residents are made to keep their environments clean. Across the country, states observe the monthly environmental exercise as residents are made to clean up their homes and surroundings for about two or three hours on a work-free day, usually Saturday.
Usually, vehicular movements are a restricted and health officials as well as security agents are deployed to monitor the exercise. Similarly, this exercise was introduced by Senator Adamu Aliero, former FCT Minister in 2009. However, five years ago, the monthly sanitization exercise was scrapped by the immediate past Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed. According to the authorities, the exercise was being observed in the breach, so the aim was defeated.
Rationalising the cancellation, former Head of Information and Outreach Programme of Abuja Environmental Protection Board, Mr. Joe Ukairo, said that residents waited in the comfort of their homes till 10a.m, instead of using the period to clean their environments. After the sanitization period, they just to go about their normal businesses without observing what the period was meant for. In place of the monthly exercise, FCT had introduced ‘’daily house-to-house inspection.’’
According to Ukairo, ‘’every day, the environmental health and safety team will go on house to house inspection,” Ukairo stated, stressing that the inspection was more effective than the monthly exercise. Significantly, the daily inspection programme crashed as soon as it took off because of inadequate manpower.
When the idea of house-to-house inspection was revealed, the Executive Director of WEP, Mrs Priscilla Achakpa, threw her weight behind it. According to her, the house inspection would awaken the consciousness of people to the issues of personal hygiene and environmental sanitation.
Achakpa also corroborated the view that the monthly sanitation fixed for every last Saturday of the month was not as effective as it should have been, as many people preferred to rest on that day. Five years down the road, the house inspection proved not to be the magic wand for environmental sanitation that was widely bandied by the authorities. Specifically, FCT was neater when the environmental sanitation was in place, warts and all.
Mr. John Ochigbo, a resident of Kuje, said that ‘’scrapping the exercise is not the best. They should look for a better way to clean the city. I don’t like the idea of the board going to people’s houses for inspection, especially with the level of insecurity in the country.’’
As a way out, FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, in February 2016, had directed that the general sanitation exercise be resuscitated by individual area councils in the territory. On Saturday, February 2, 2016, the minister kick-started the programme tagged, ‘’FCT Household and Community Sanitation Exercise’’ in Kuje, with his former colleague in the Ministry of Environment, Ms Amina Mohammed.
Significantly, the FCT Minister replicated the same flag off in other Area Councils in subsequent weeks.
At all occasions, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello had reiterated the importance of personal hygiene and general cleanliness of the environment. He told Kwali residents that “it is our duty, individually and collectively, to safeguard and maintain our environment because nobody can do it better than us.’’ The minister further said that community-based approach to environmental sanitation is more realistic and sustainable.
Similarly, the former Minister of Environment, Ms Mohammed revealed that the Federal Government will reintroduce the National Environmental Sanitation Day (NESD) introduce by the Buhari Administration in 1984. She observed that the re-emergence of Lassa fever and other diseases calls for greater attention and synergy by stakeholders.
She had promised to consult with states, local government and other relevant stakeholders to create a strong interface in making national environmental sanitation day reality.
Non compliance greets directive
Blueprint Weekend observed that since the minister flagged off the general sanitation exercise in Kuje Area Council, the FCT Household and Community Sanitation Exercise is not being complied with. Area councils have not adhered or complied with the directive on monthly sanitation exercise.
Significantly, in spite of the minister’s promise to reward the cleanest area councils, the chairmen have made no efforts to revive the monthly sanitization programme.
Two years after the flag off, the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) chairman, Abdullahi Adamu Candido is still contemplating over introducing the exercise in his council. Admitting the appalling sanitary state of communities within his council, the AMAC chairman had reiterated the need to urgently tackle the problem.
To this end, he charged the Environmental Enforcement Cadets of AMAC to restore the sanctity of the council, during their passing out parade. Specifically, he tasked them to educate and enlighten residents on good environmental practices and also enforce discipline.
Given the outbreak of Lassa fever in neigbouring states, some FCT residents want the return of the mandatory monthly sanitation exercise.