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Lassa Fever: One resurgence too many!

31 August 2016, 14:54 Isaac Asabor

There is no denying the fact that since the resurgence of Lassa fever in Asaba, Delta State was recently reported in the media that it has become a cause for concern to many Nigerians that are well informed about the disease.

The reason for the concern cannot be farfetched as its devastating effect to human life is imponderable. For instance, the information I got on Lassa Fever from the website named health-care-tips.org was quite frightening.

The sight made me to understand that fever, chills, rigours, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, tinnitus, epistaxis, back pain, sore throat, facial swelling, abdominal pain, eye inflammation, restroternal pain and general weaknesses are all symptoms of Lassa Fever.

The website disclosed that the symptoms of Lassa Fever are varied and non-specific. It also disclosed that the first symptoms of the disease typically occur in between 1-3 weeks after the patient comes into contact with the virus. The most common long term complication of Lassa Fever is deafness.

Given the stark reality of its resurgence in Asaba, in Delta State, against the backdrop of its geographical contiguity to Edo state to the north, Ondo to the northwest, Anambra to the east and Bayelsa and Rivers to the southeast, one cannot be misconstrued to express the fear that it is a cause for concern to everyone, and that it is no more a neocolonial instrument of propaganda as many were wont to suggest whenever the nation is faced with a dreaded disease.

It is a cause for concern that Lassa Fever which got its name from the town of Lassa in Nigeria where it was first identified in 1969 has literarily remained a recurring issue in the country’s health equation.

It is surprising to read in the news once again that the disease that was thought by everyone to  have disappeared resurged in Asaba again despite the assurance given by the minister of health early  in a press briefing early this year; precisely in the month of January, 2016.

Reiteratively put, it is a cause for concern that the resurgence of Lassa Fever in Asaba pooh-poohed the hope raised by the Honourable Minister through his press briefing as result of the outbreak of Lassa Fever earlier in the year.

In his statement then, the minister said “The public is hereby assured that the government and its partners, and other stakeholders are working tirelessly to address the outbreak and bring it to timely end”. He added that “It is important that I notify the nation through you, that in the last 6 weeks Nigeria has been experiencing Lassa Fever outbreak which so far affected 10 states. The states affected include Bauchi, Nassarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Plateau, Gombe and Oyo states. The total number so far reported is 81 and 35 deaths, with a mortality rate of 43.2%. Our laboratories have confirmed 17 cases, indicative of a new roundtrip of Lassa Fever outbreak”.

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is obviously regrettable to realize the fact that despite the hope raised by the minister earlier in the year that Nigerians have once again commenced experiencing another gory tales of devastating outbreak of Lassa Fever in a state that is contiguously bordered by five other states.

At the press briefing event, the minister assured Nigerians that immediate quantities of Ribavirin, the specific antiviral drug for Lassa Fever to all the affected states for prompt and adequate treatment of cases. Against the backdrop of a fresh outbreak of Lassa Fever in Delta state, exactly 7 months after the minister assured Nigerians on what the federal ministry of health has done then to contain the disease,  one may not be wrong to deduce from the facts on ground that the ministry did not carry out the measures conveyed to the public through the press briefing or that the measures were carried out but not effective as planned.

He also informed Nigerians then that the affected states were advised to intensify awareness creation on the signs and symptoms including preventive measure such as general hygiene. Analyzed from this perspective, does it  not stands to reason that the awareness creation measure was not  shared with health Ministries across the 36 states? The question is expedient at this juncture as it appears  that stakeholders in the country’s health sector are wont to fight any outbreak of disease with a fire brigade approach rather than being proactive in their collective approach.

Nigerians are so worried  and are concerned  that despite all the measures put in place, according to the minister 7 months agos, it is sad that Nigerians are still been threatened by the imminent outbreak of Lassa Fever after the reported resurgence in Asaba.

To me, the Federal ministry of health in collaboration with all the health Ministries in the 36 states should grease the awareness campaign machineries at their disposals so as to commence informing the people that their attitude to good hygiene should not be limited to only a dedicated day in the month as it is being done in Lagos on every last Saturday of the month. They should be informed that foodstuffs like garri, rice, beans among others should be stored away from the reach of rats or rodents generally. With this, parents can on their own be educating their children on the need to imbibe the culture of cleanliness, and also ensuring they wash their hands before eating. The information that Cats can be kept as pets to scare away rats can also be disseminated to the people while those who may not be comfortable with cats as pets can resort to placing rat gums at strategic places in the kitchen, bathroom and other parts of the apartment. Nigerians should be informed that knowingly or unknowingly creating a habitat for rats should be avoided by keeping their apartments tidy.

Also, people should be informed during the campaign that can be majorly carried out through Town Hall Meetings that they should be  extremely meticulous on how they buy foods from roadside vendors particularly while at work, and as well be circumspect of the market environment they buy foodstuffs from. They should be warned that uncooked foods should be thoroughly washed before they are processed as meals for the family. While these tips are being outlined in this piece is that the remedy for Lassa fever goes beyond the potencies of “Over The Counter” drugs (OTC drugs) and local herbs popularly called “Agbo” in the western part of the country. It is a disease that compels one to see a specialist doctor.

Now that the reality of Lassa fever is being acknowledged, it would be expedient that the campaign be done in collaboration with Nigerian journalists and public relations practitioners. The campaign should not be directed at only a segment of the society. It should be directed to all Nigerians. The campaigners should employ the appropriate languages which everyone can understand. Most importantly, non-governmental organizations should begin to support the federal and state governments’ efforts on how the pandemic of Lassa Fever can be confronted and controlled. Personally, it would be nice if the people in the rural areas could be reached in order to create awareness about Lassa Fever. In this case, mother tongues can be used as the vehicles of communication. Also, health workers at local government level all over the country can resort to organizing town hall meetings for those in the rural areas as long as the campaign lasts.

The issue of the resurgence of Lassa Fever in Delta state should not be treated with a kid-glove approach as we have in the past few days been reading about the incalculable devastation it has done in one fell swoop on people’s lives. If possible, the government can use what this writer may contextually call sledge-hammer approach. Simply put, the disease should be tackled with all seriousness.

Finally, I am using this article to urge the Minister of Health and all 36 states commissioners for Health, not to rest on their oars as regards the issue of Lassa Fever as the whole Nigerians are looking up to them in ensuring that the disease is not allowed to break into any part of the country again.

- MyNews24

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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