13 January 2016

Nigeria: FG Earmarks N140 Million to Fight Lassa Fever, Death Toll Hits 41

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(file photo).

In its effort to step up the fight against Lassa fever, the federal government yesterday earmarked the sum of N140 million as funds to tackle the disease.

This came as the total number of deaths has now risen to 41. Meanwhile, the Ondo, Oyo and Nasarawa State governments on Tuesday confirmed cases of the disease in their respective states. At a joint press briefing in Abuja on Tuesday, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, and his Information and Culture counterpart, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stated that efforts are being made by government to arrest further spread of the disease, which is now present in 10 states of the federation.

Adewole said: "With respect to the cost, we are currently handling it within our in-house resources, using drugs that we had in stock. But we are trying to replenish our stocks; we estimate that we will spend N56 million to replenish the drugs. And in order to mount the response, we are looking at N140 million.

"So everything is manageable within the budget of the Federal Ministry of Health, therefore we need not panic for now. When we set up an inter-ministerial committee to ensure that we finally declare Lassa fever dead, and buried completely, we will come up with the budget."

The minister explained that government would be discreet and transparent with any funds geared towards fighting the disease, adding: "We will also be very realistic in line with the posture of the present administration. We are not going to declare a bazaar, so no one should expect to feast on Lassa fever."

On the current status of the disease, Adewole stated that: "As at today, records from our surveillance show that the number of suspected cases is 93, number of laboratory confirmed cases is 25 and the number of reported deaths is 41, with a case fatality of 44.0 per cent."

While stating that no foreigner has been affected, he said: "Given the high index of suspicion, the increasing number of suspected cases may not be out of place, as health practitioners are more likely to include Lassa fever as a differential diagnosis in their health care facilities. However, there have been no confirmed cases of deaths in the last 48 hours. This is a reflection of our coordinated response and advocacy to all states."

To map out strategic roadmap to completely curtail further spread of the disease, the federal government, Adewole said, he had constituted a four-man expert committee headed by Prof. Michael Azuzu of the University of Ibadan, a professor of Community Medicine and President of Society of Public Health Practitioners of Nigeria (SPHPN).

The minister further stated that this would be followed by the setting up of an inter-ministerial committee, comprising ministries of health, education, agriculture and natural resources and information and culture to set a new platform that will holistically confront Lassa fever epidemic.

However, the discovery of the two cases of the disease in Ondo State was disclosed by the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dayo Adeyanju, at a stakeholders' meeting on prevention of Lassa fever in the state.

According to him, the two victims were taken to the state Specialist Hospital in Akure from Ose Local Government Area which shares borders with Edo State as one of the victims was from Edo State.

While speaking with community leaders, which include traditional rulers, opinion leaders, religion leaders and health workers , the health commissioner called on them to help the crusade against the spread of Lassa fever in the state.

Adeyanju also urged the stakeholders to be vigilant of movement of strange people into their communities and advised them to refer any ill persons with symptoms of Lassa fever to the nearest hospital for prompt attention.

He explained that the state government had put in place measures to curb the spread of the disease in the state The commissioner said the health ministry has put under close monitoring about 31 persons who had contacts with the two suspects to avoid the spread of the disease.

He revealed that the outbreak control team at the local government area has been re-activated, while emergency lines have been released to the public with jingles on radio and television to sensitise the public about the deadly disease. In Nasarawa State, incidence of the disease was reported in Lafia, the state capital.

Briefing journalists in Lafia, Chief Medical Director of Dalhattu Arap Specialist Hospital, Dr. Yakubu Ashaku, disclosed that two confirmed cases of the infection with one victim dead and the other discharged after successful treatment.

The medical officer further disclosed that four suspected cases have been recorded; with three testing negative while one patient is currently receiving treatment at the same hospital.

The deceased patient was from Akeleku in Obi Local Goverment Area of the state, as disclosed by the Chief Medical Director. According to Ashaku, most of the reported cases are in northern part of the state. He urged members of the public to take precautionary measures like ensuring proper hygiene and avoid rodents which are vectors of the virus.

The medical officer also allayed the apprehension of the people by disclosing that the disease was not air borne. "Federal government, through the Federal Ministry of Health in conjunction with the state government is working around the clock in providing drugs and services to avert further spread of the disease," Ashaku affirmed.

Equally, the Oyo State Government confirmed that a case of outbreak of Lasser fever was recorded in the state. The government was however quick to assure the public of their safety, saying there was no cause for alarm. The special adviser to the state Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, on Media, Mr. Yomi Layinka, disclosed this at a press conference yesterday in Ibadan.

Layinka admitted that the status of Lasser fever in the state has been a subject of discussion in public domain. Contrary to an earlier pronouncement made by the state Ministry of Health that, there was no case of Lasser fever in the state, Layinka revealed that a case has been discovered in the state but added that it was nothing to worry about.

He, however, stated that an inter-ministerial committee on sensitisation has been set up for the purpose. Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday urged the federal government, health agencies and non-governmental organisations to carry out a holistic and aggressive sensitisation exercise at markets, restaurants, neighbourhoods, communities, offices and schools on the outbreak of lassa fever.

The parliament also advised Nigerians to be very conscious of the situation by adhering to rules of reasonable hygiene and also put in more efforts to get rid of rodents from their environments.

It said doing so would prevent further spread of the disease as it advised Nigerians to report persistent cases of high fever that are not responding to standard treatments for malaria and typhoid fever in the nearest health centre.

The motion was moved by Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Lanre Tejuosho, and supported by many senators. Tejuosho who noted the slogan, "kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria," lamented that rats are now killing Nigerians faster than corruption, adding that if nothing is done to curtail further spread of the disease, it will attain an alarming rate that will compel the government to declare a state of emergency in the country.

Tejuosho who recalled that the disease broke out since the first quarter of 2014 with no fewer than 15 states affected, said the disease claimed 20 lives and threw up 319 victims in 2014 as he alleged that nothing was done to address the hazard since then.

He also observed that the disease had currently claimed 35 of its 76 victims with 46 per cent case fatality rate confirmed by the federal government adding that the spread of the disease to 10 of the 36 states of the federation is worrisome.

He added that whereas about 500,000 cases of Lassa fever are recorded in West Africa annually, no fewer than 5,000 souls lose their lives to the disease every year as he described the lassa fever as a viral haemorrhagic fever caused by Lassa virus.

Furthermore, he said the disease is spread through virus particles through infected rodents or close contact with infected individuals with the incubation period of 5 to 21 days. The symptoms typically appear 10 days after infection, Tejuosho added.

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