4 February 2008

Nigeria: Zaria Measles Epidemic

Abuja — Recent reports of measles outbreak in the ancient city of Zaria in Kaduna State, which left a death toll of over 200 children, are unfortunate. Many more children are currently receiving treatment in various hospitals in the city, battling to survive the scourge.

This happened barely few weeks after the 19 Governors of the Northern States held a "Health Summit" in Kaduna in conjunction with the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), where emphasis was given to strategies on how to reduce the scourge of malaria, one of the six childhood killer diseases.

Districts worst hit by the Zaria measles outbreak according to reports were Banzazzau, Unguwar Juma, Kwarbai, Unguwan Fatika, Tudun Wada, Tukur Tukur, Gyellesu, and Wuciciri, among others.

Earlier, when news of the outbreak broke and the news of the number of casualties began to filter out of the city, attempts were made by the state government to deny it, while residents were apprehensive about the next line of action. The belief that injection worsens the condition of a child suffering from measles coupled with the general apathy to immunization in most parts of the North contributed to the menace. 90 percent of deaths were recorded at home due to the negligence of parents who out-rightly refused to take the infected children to the hospital. It is indeed pathetic and embarrassing that this is happening in a city where the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital ( ABUTH ) is located in addition to the presence of many research institutes.

The Kaduna state government's intervention also came too late, indicating the lack of political will to tackle the situation as clearly demonstrated by the state commissioner of health, Dr. Yari Peters Everton's comment. During his tour of the ravaged areas, he declared that the victims should consider themselves lucky that the state government had stock of drugs and vaccinations.

This comment is disheartening considering the enormous resources that international organizations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF and other donor agencies provide in this regard. Today, most rural health centres are mere structures without basic facilities and drugs. Local government councils whose constitutional responsibilities include the provision of primary health care (PHC) are subjected to the whims and caprices of state governors who solely decide on how to spend the money in the joint accounts, while reports of corrupt practices manifest in the application of funds. The intervention of the federal government however came handy.

The development has also awakened the Kano state government which swung into action to forestall any outbreak of measles in the state. This was sequel to the death of three children when the state recorded an out-break of the disease last month.

The only way to avert the reoccurrence of the Zaria experience is to intensify and develop a monitoring mechanism, and ensure government's readiness to promptly respond to such disaster as it unfolds. A rapid response unit team should be established in all hospitals to handle any emergency case of that nature. Also, there is the need to reinvigorate the public enlightenment units of all the local governments to ensure a house- to- house campaign, particularly at the grassroots, on the importance of immunization and vaccination against the outbreak of killer diseases such as measles, polio, cholera and diarrhoea, among others. Our primary health care centres must be overhauled, equipped and provided with adequate drugs at all times. The huge annual budgetary allocation to the health sector and moneys received from donor agencies relating to health care delivery programmes must be judiciously utilized and accounted for at all times by the government at all levels.

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