21 January 2010

Nigeria: Swine Flu - FG, WHO in Talks over Vaccines

Martha Eigbefoh — Sequel to the outbreak of the A: H1N1 also known as swine flu which claimed two lives in Nigeria, Federal Government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have begun talks on the possibility of providing the country with swine flu vaccines.

The disease, which broke out in Mexico recently has claimed two lives so far in Nigeria.

Lagos State Government Tuesday disclosed that it had recorded eight cases of the disease and raised alarm over the non-availability of the vaccine in the country.

Speaking with newsmen in Abuja, Minister of Health, Babatunde Osotimehin, said negotiation between government and the UN agency had reached advanced stage.

He noted that before now, Nigeria was not considered a high endemic country hence the decision by WHO to concentrate the vaccine in countries where the disease was more pronounced especially developed countries.

According to him, following appeals made last year to the body, WHO took a decision to consider Nigeria's request even when Nigeria was yet to record any case of the pandemic.

With the latest confirmation of the disease in the country, Nigeria had intensified the move to secure the vaccine. Baring any hitch, he said, the vaccine would be available in the country by February.

He said Lagos State government was rightly laying emphasis on vaccines as a preventive measure owing to the population and metropolitan nature of the state but maintained that a cure for the pandemic was available in Nigeria.

He said deaths recorded so far was not as a result of absence of a curative drug but as a result of late diagnosis.

The minister, who spoke through his Special Assistant on Communication, Niyi Ojuolape, urged Nigerians to adopt precautionary measures, notably frequent hand washing, use of clean water and soap, keeping hands away from the face while sneezing or coughing as the disease gains access to the body through the eyes and nose, seeking medical attention on noticing cough, catarrh and high fever, among others.

He said the curative drug was already available throughout the country and stated that the committee set up to tackle the situation, National Epidemic Preparedness and Response Committee was already on top of the situation even as he maintained that government would intensify campaign on precautionary measures.

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government has expressed its preparedness to control the spread of the disease.

Speaking with journalists at the Murtala Muhammed Airport yesterday, Governor Babatunde Fashola advised Lagosians to follow the medical instructions reeled off by the state Ministry of Health.

The governor, who confirmed that out of the 52 already screened for the killer disease, eight positive, emphatically said that Nigeria would soon overcome the problem just like other countries.

His words: "I think they are 52 and I think 8 tested positive, what the commissioner is doing also is to effect treatment and also to ensure that the public campaign that has been in place to ensure preventive steps are taken so that we don't contaminate or spread this global infection. So I could do no better than him than to assure you that I have also been briefed and I am confident that the commissioner for health and members of his team, his ministry and all our public health workers are on top of the situation.

"What we all need to do is to listen to them and follow their advice, cover our noses when we cough and sneeze, wash our hands when we use the conveniences. We were, one of the first to alert the public about this outbreak very early last year, even before any case was ever recorded in Nigeria . We were acting very preemptively and proactively in the discharge of our responsibilities to protect lives and property. And beyond that, what we have done in many of the public facilities you have in Lagos today, there are hand cleaning liquids, there hand washing facilities that we have put in place in anticipation of it. So we are on top of our job, we are on top of the situation. And I urge people to remain calm and follow the advice of the commissioner and we will overcome this as this is not unique to us. Much more powerful nations and countries have been subjected to this and they have done basically what we are doing. So it now behoves on us really as citizens to ensure that this doesn't become an epidemic by following simple rules of hygiene",

Speaking on the action of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Fashola said: "I think that the achievements of the CJN deserve to be appropriately documented. And should also be documented by judicial correspondents and judicial historians. But I think what I want to take away is for us to sit back and reflect that what if this man had behaved like some of us had behaved in the past? What if at that time when we were unsure of what will happen, he had said may be they should elongate his own tenure too? What if he had said okay I have finish and I am going away you solve the problem?

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