Again, the Federal Government has been caught off guard by a disease that has been lurking around and is endemic to the country. Just like last year, the FG through the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) are reacting instead of being proactive to Lassa fever epidemic.
The NCDC had confirmed a current epidemic, which started in Ebonyi State on Sunday the January 14, 2018.
Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed twelve cases of Lassa fever in six out of the sixteen local government areas of Taraba state.
According to WHO representatives operating in the State, patients of the confirmed cases who emanated from Ardo-Kola, Bali, Gashak, Gassol Ibi and Jalingo local government councils are presently receiving medical attention at the various isolated centers located at both the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Jalingo and the state specialist hospital.
The disclosure, which came Monday at a one day sensitization workshop organized by the State Ministry of Health for health workers, has it that while three of the confirmed cases have been positive, three have as well been confirmed dead.
Dr. Zeto Philip of the WHO made this known on behalf of the state coordinator of the organization, Alhaji Umar Farouk, said over 297 suspected cases of the epidemic have been unraveled in the country with twenty-two death said to have been recorded in thirteen states.
Philip said that the death mortality rate occasioned by Lassa fever has risen to 25 per cent even as he beckoned at the various state governments to rise up to the challenges. "It is expected that the way the government at the center is working, the states should as well take cue."
According to the WHO, Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever illness that is known to be endemic in various West African countries including Nigeria. "As of June 9, 2017, a total of 501 suspected cases including 104 deaths was reported since the onset of the Lassa fever outbreaks season in December 2016.
"... During the 2016 and 2017 Lassa fever outbreak, 17 Nigerian states (Anambra, Bauchi, Borno, Cross-River, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Plateau, Rivers, and Taraba) have reported at least one confirmed case. As of June 9, 2017, the outbreak is still active in nine states (Anambra, Bauchi, Cross-River, Edo, Taraba, Nasarawa, Ondo, Plateau, and Kano)."
Chief Executive Officer of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said Lassa fever is a viral hemorrhagic disease, caused by contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces. He said 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.
Ihekweazu said health care workers in health facilities are particularly at risk of contracting the disease, especially where infection prevention and control (IPC) procedures are not strictly adhered.
"We therefore strongly advise that health care workers practice universal care precautions while handling patients at all times, not just when Lassa fever is suspected. We commiserate with the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki (FETHA) and Ebonyi State Government, and will support them to avert a future occurrence," he said.
The epidemiologist said although there is no vaccine currently available for Lassa fever, the disease can be prevented. "Members of the public are advised to keep their environments clean in order to discourage rats from entering homes. Food stuff should be stored in rodent-proof containers, garbage should be disposed properly and far from the home, and hand washing should be practiced frequently," he said.
Ihekweazu added: "Health care workers are again reminded that Lassa fever presents initially like any other disease causing a febrile illness such as malaria; and are advised to practice universal care precautions at all times. Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) must be applied to all suspected cases of malaria. When the RDT is negative, other causes of febrile illness including Lassa fever should be considered.
"Extra caution should be taken by family members who are providing care for patients with Lassa fever. In addition, States are encouraged to ensure safe burial practices for patients who die from Lassa fever.
"The National guidelines for Infection Prevention and Control, as well as Lassa fever case management have been developed, disseminated to States and are available on the NCDC website for download (http://ncdc.gov.ng/diseases/guidelines).
"The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control remains committed to supporting all States' public health teams to prevent and respond to public health threats.
Please contact NCDC Toll-free Number: 0800-970000-10 SMS: 08099555577 WhatsApp: 07087110839 Twitter/Facebook: @NCDCgov."
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) is scheduled to flag off the Community Health Influencers, Promoters and Services (CHIPS) programme on Tuesday the February 6, 2018 in Lafia, Nasarawa State.
CHIPS is one of the PMB Administration's initiative and a critical component of the Primary Health Care Revitalization program, particularly in addressing challenges of health's human resources in the rural areas.
According to a press statement from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) signed by the Head, Public Relations Unit (PRU), Saadu Salahu, the official flag off of the CHIPS Programme is a major part of activities lined up for an official working day visit of the President to Nasarawa State.
Addressing journalists recently, the Executive Director and Chief Executive, NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said the overall aim of CHIPS Programme is to improve access and equitable coverage to essential health services, especially those relating to maternal, new born and child survival.
Other objectives include addressing barriers to demand for PHC services, ensure supply of integrated Primary Health Care (PHC) interventions, linking the health workforce at health centres in rural and underserved communities to the households and tackling delays in decision to seek care, reaching care and receiving adequate healthcare.
Speaking last year during the official launching of PHC revitalization at the Kuchigoro PHC model centre, Abuja, President Muhmmadu Buhari declared:
"We shall focus more on the People living in the rural areas and the vulnerable Population in our society such as women, children five years of age and the elderly in collaboration with national and international partners."
Meanwhile, Philip also pleaded with the leadership of the thirty-six states of the federation to endeavor have identifying isolated units, adding " government should increase treatment facilities at least one per state or two per zone."
Commending the managements of both hospitals, he charges health workers to tread relevant medical paths to secured them from being infected by the virus stating that because " health workers are involved in most of these cases."
Taraba state Commissioner of Health, Dr. Innocent Vakkai, who took participants down the memory lane on the incessant reoccurrence of the epidemic in both the state and the country at large, said the workshop is geared towards " rising the awareness that we are experiencing in the state and the country" adding that " it is a disease that has high mortality."
Also of the option that " health workers managing Lassa fever patients are not free from the virus" the state government, as pleaded by him, would continue to embarked on pro-active measures in order to halt the spread and transmissions of the disease.
The state epidemiologist, Dr. Aket Emo Udi, who identified traditional burial practice, poor processing and storage of food to mention just a few, as determinants of Lassa Fever, said attempts are " being made to produce a vaccine against the virus."
On their own part both Dr. Aisha Adamu and Dr. Emeka Uhiom of the physician isolation of the FMC and the state specialist hospital, were of the opinion that quick release of funds by the authorities would go along way to address the challenges confronting persons infected by the disease.
Lack of political will and funding, irregular supply of ribavirin, among others, as identified by them are major challenges hindering medical experts from wiping out the disease adding that "no dialysis centers, no good management."
The said workshop, which took place at the multipurpose hall of the Galaxy Hot Spot, located in Jalingo, the stated capital, heralded the presence of healthcare workers from the nooks and crannies of the state.