With a new outbreak of Lassa fever cases being announced in Ebonyi, Kogi, Ondo and Nasarawa States respectively, it has raised serious fears among many Nigerians, about the possibility of another disaster in the making.
As at Press time the current outbreak of Lassa fever has killed two doctors in Ebonyi State. In Ondo State no fewer than five people have been reportedly killed while 19 people have been hospitalised. In Nasarawa State, one person has been killed, while there are 15 suspected cases. In Kogi state, a doctor was reportedly killed. The development has thrown other health workers across the country into a state of panic. All together the authorities say 21 people have died with at least 77 infected people, so far nation wide.
Nigeria has witnessed several Lassa fever outbreaks since last year. Health Experts, have called for urgent measures to be taken, especially considering the limited diagnosis centres in the country, which has made early detection difficult.
The current Lassa fever outbreak is coming at a time when many Nigerians have just finished battling with the monkey pox virus. For many reasons, the return of the current Lassa virus is one too many.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 80 percent of people who become infected with Lassa virus have no symptoms. Lassa fever according to reports is a viral haemorrhagic disease, caused by contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces. Lassa virus might also be spread between humans through direct contact with blood, urine, faeces, or other bodily secretions of a person infected with Lassa fever.
What is obvious from the recent Lassa fever outbreak is that the Government and its regulatory health agencies need to act proactively. A sustained Public enlightenment campaign needs to be created and sustained to safeguard Nigerians especially knowing the inherent causes of the Disease.
In a country of over 180 million people, an efficient disease surveillance system which rapidly detects and reports public health events cannot be over-emphasised. In cases like this the Government’s stance has always been to reassure Nigerians of the need to remain calm. But, in reality a lot still needs to be done to reassure Nigerians that measures are rightly being taken to safeguard them against the epidemic.
So far the Federal Government, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), has dispatched a rapid response team, to investigate and respond to this cluster of cases in some of the affected states. However, it must be pointed out that a country’s commitment to public health awareness about diseases is critical in disease prevention and control. The public needs to be informed by the appropriate authorities on what to do when the symptoms are noticed, especially on how to control the spread.
Meanwhile, always maintaining a high sense of personal hygiene is highly advisable according to health experts, while storing food items especially grains, gari and powdered food in air-tight containers is another measure.
In addition, members of the public are advised to quickly report any high grade fever to the appropriate health authorities so that quick diagnosis and treatment can be instituted. Avoiding close contact with infected dead birds and humans, at this point in time is strongly advised too.
Furthermore, as a matter of national importance, the authorities should strengthen our health institutions especially the limited diagnosis centres. There should also be a definite and clear cut process on who should report and at what point, in the management of health related cases in the country.
Finally, winning the trust and confidence of Nigerians plays a central role. Winning the war against cases of Lassa fever will help to restore confidence in the minds of millions of Nigerians on the capacity and competence of our regulatory health agencies to curtail the outbreak of diseases in the country.