Nigeria: Contaminated Water As Major Cause of High Death Rate

4 February 2019

Chika Okeke examines the intricacies behind the consumption of contaminated water and writes on the need for improved water, sanitation and hygiene across the states.

The use of contaminated water for drinking and domestic chores have increased the chances of diarrhea which is a contributory factor to the deaths of more than 70,000 under five Nigerian children annually.

73 per cent of the diarrhoeal and enteric disease burden is associated with poor access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) that is a common sight among poorer children according to United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

Enteric bacteria enters the body through the mouth and are acquired through contaminated food and water, by contact with animals or their environments likewise the feces of an infected person.

This is why Nigeria struggled to contend the outbreak of cholera that ravaged 18 states of Adamawa, Anambra, Bauchi, Borno, Ebonyi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Yobe, Sokoto and Zamfara likewise the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in 2018.

A situation report by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) revealed that about 517 died from cholera outbreak, while 27, 927 cases were recorded between January and September 2018.

The UNICEF, an arm of the UN had in 2017 ranked Nigeria among the top 5 countries globally with large numbers of people without access to safe water, improved sanitation and practicing open defecation.

It further posited that 66 million Nigerians were bereft of improved drinking water, while 109 million lacked access to improved sanitation.

Regrettably, about 150,000 children die of diarrhea-related diseases annually due to consumption of unsafe water.

Also, a report by World Health Organisation (WHO) highlighted that about 159 million people fetched untreated surface water from lakes, ponds, rivers and streams globally in 2015.

It further hinted that at least 2 billion people use drinking water source contaminated with faeces while over 844 million people lacked basic drinking-water service globally.

The report also estimated that 842, 000 people would die annually from diarrhoea as a result of unsafe drinking-water, sanitation, and hand hygiene.

LEADERSHIP findings indicated that drinking contaminated water was one of the major causes of gastrointestinal and stomach illnesses such as nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea.

The World Bank however posited that Nigeria would require to triple its budget or at least allocate 1.7 per cent of the current gross domestic product (GDP) to WASH.

This is the major reason President Muhammadu Buhari, had last year declared a state of emergency on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in the country due to the outbreak of communicable diseases

Given the threatening implications of drinking contaminated water, experts have pleaded with Nigerians to change unhealthy lifestyles that shortens their lifespan.

A volunteer at Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE), Dr Dike Okwelum , revealed that using water contaminated with heavy metals like lead, pesticides, and hydrocarbons could cause hormonal and reproductive problems, damage to the nervous system and birth defects in newborns.

He noted that the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in many environmental pollutants causes toxic or adversely effected female reproductive system in two ways such as ovarian toxicity and oocyte destruction.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of more than 100 different chemicals that are released from burning coal, oil, gasoline, trash, tobacco, wood, or other organic substances such as charcoal-broiled meat.

While oocyte destruction is the destruction of an immature ovum, or egg cell, ovarian toxicity is the degree to which a chemical substance or a particular mixture of substances can damage the ovary.

This he said, led to ovarian failure, and premature menopause, adding that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are abundant not only in most heavy metals and chemicals but also in cigarette smoke.

Okwelum pointed out that inverse dose -response relationship between the number of cigarette consumed and age of menopause suggested that increased exposure to hydrocarbons increased oocyte destruction.

He further revealed that most hydrocarbons are also carcinogenic, a situation that could cause mutations and birth defects.

The expert emphasised that aside air and water pollution that another overlooked form of pollution is noise, regretting that Nigeria is currently accustomed to noise.

According to him, "The sound of generators has taken over the entire streets while we are constantly assaulted by sirens from cars escorting our so-called Very Important Persons (VIPs)."

He stated that the cumulative impact of noise pollution could result to hearing impairment adding that noise pollution is directly linked to tinnitus, stress, and hypertension.

Okwelum pleaded with Nigerians to make concerted efforts towards changing certain unhealthy lifestyles that affected the environment negatively.

He noted that lead poisoning should be included on environment danger list adding that food and drink are the major sources of lead generally.

The medical expert disclosed that the major sources of lead in the environment are fuel additives released from automobile emissions and from various industrial sources.

He maintained that lead is deposited near road, vicinity of lead smelters, where discarded batteries are burned, lead water pipes and tanks.

The expert highlighted the earliest effect of lead poisoning as interference with body's haemoglobin production, a situation that led to severe anaemia.

He listed the symptoms of lead deposit in humans as fatigue, lassitude, generalised aches, muscle and joint pains, abdominal discomfort, bad taste in the mouth as well as kidney damage and encephalopathy in children.

Okwelum said though water is vital to human survival just like the air,it is a precious resources that could easily be polluted saying that the consequences of drinking polluted water are amebiasis, typhoid fever, severe gastroenteritis like cholera and all forms of diarrhoea diseases.

The expert stressed that the effect of air pollution depended on the length of time of exposure as well as the kind and concentration of chemicals and particles that contaminated the air.

He described the short-term effects as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, upper respiratory infections like bronchitis, pneumonitis and eye inflammation like conjunctivitis.

Others include headaches, nausea, anorexia, allergic skin reactions, and aggravation of medical condition in individuals with asthma, and emphysema.

He noted that the long-term effect would lead to chronic cardiopulmonary diseases saying that air pollutants are mostly carcinogenic.

Lending his voice, the managing director of Global Prolife Alliance (GPA), a leading health, legal and environmental organisation, Prof. Philip Njemanze, pointed out that both cervical cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and infertility were caused by estrogen-related compounds which he said was the major reasons the diseases were on the rise in Nigeria.

The expert further described estrogen as a grave threat to the environment and aquatic life adding that estrogen that passed out through human urine would sink down to the aquifer underground waters while ending up in a nearby stream or river.

"The small fishes drink the contaminated water and become hermaphrodites; neither male or female, so they will not be able to reproduce," he added.

He noted that big fishes that depended on the small fishes for food would die after eating small fishes which he said it's the major reason why most waters around the big cities were witnessing dwindling number of fishes and sometimes none.

Using Lagos State as a case point, Njemanze who is also the managing director of medicine, Chidicon Medical and Diagnostic Centre, Owerri emphasised that fishermen had to go further into the ocean to get fish, adding that Depo-provera is posing life-threatening health emergency for the Nigerians.

He enjoined federal government to urgently ban the distribution of Depo-provera and other hormonal drugs such as Clomid or Serophene used for fertility methods such as invitro-feritlisation (IVF) procedures either for egg donations or poaching.

In his contribution, the founder of FADE, Dr Newton Jibunoh,pointed out that Nigerians living in highly-wpolluted areas were at risk of contracting skin and lung cancer likewise damage to the brain, nerves, liver, and kidneys in case of newborns.

He disclosed that persistent coughing and wheezing is often traceable to people living in cities adding that an increase in atmospheric temperature is proportional to increase in air pollutants.

"When exposure to carbon monoxide leads to blood carboxyhaemoglobin levels in the range of three to 10 percent, the effect will reduce work capacity in healthy young adults, aggravate angina symptoms during exercise, and impair mental vigilance," he added.

He also emphasised that exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide would result to headaches, dizziness, fibrinolysis,death and the reduction of fetal birth weight in pregnant women thereby causing poor development.

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