Nigeria: Ending the Ravages of Cholera

Cholera prevention guide.
25 June 2021

There is need to raise awareness on sanitation and personal hygiene

Cholera has remained a big health menace across the country, claiming no fewer than 289 lives between January and June. The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu said about 11,000 suspected cases have been reported with 112 confirmed cases. The number of cases has increased with increased rains in the last one month, while the most affected states are Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Zamfara, Bayelsa and Kaduna. Seven people were confirmed killed in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as of Wednesday. The mere fact that scores of precious lives are lost annually to cholera speaks to our failure to overcome our primitive living conditions.

Nigeria, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), has the highest burden of the water-borne disease in Africa. "Cholera is life- threatening. If you get contaminated with cholera bacteria and you do not receive appropriate treatment within 24 - 48 hours, you can pass on. Dysentery can give you some time to take care of yourself but not cholera," said the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) water, sanitation and hygiene specialist, Mr Drissa Yeo. Symptoms include severe cramping, diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration.

It is indeed sad that for more than four decades, a preventable disease like cholera has been a recurring epidemic in Nigeria and has led to the death of thousands of people, especially children. While there have been some efforts by the federal government to deal with the challenge, we have not seen a corresponding commitment from the state governments, yet cholera appears to be synonymous with rural communities.

The spread of cholera is helped when the environment is dirty; when water system is not treated and when sanitation is not taken seriously. In many of our states, villagers and rural dwellers are left to rely on streams as the only source of drinking water. There are no provisions for disposing waste. Since cholera is more prevalent in rural areas, the problem becomes compounded when and where there are no modern medical facilities to assist in the treatment of the disease.

Goal Six of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is on ensuring water and sanitation for all by 2030. This means that nine years from now, every person in Nigeria and other countries in the world should have access to safe drinking water and safe sanitation. The UNICEF and the Federal Ministry of Water Resources not long ago signed a document called Partnership for Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH), which aims at meeting the SDGs agenda on schedule. But having a plan is one thing, bringing in the resources and mustering the commitment towards its fulfilment is something else.

It is indeed shameful that Nigerians are still afflicted with cholera, mostly contracted through drinking of contaminated water and eating of waste products. But with the systemic collapse of critical institutions and basic health facilities in many of the states across the country, it is little surprise that many of our nationals are still dying of the preventable disease common among the poor but has been eliminated in many countries.

One of the factors that has worsened the outbreak of cholera in the country is open defecation which pollutes water sources. That Nigeria has one of the worst global records of open defecation is disturbing and must be tackled with utmost urgency in the nation's bid to check the perennial cholera epidemics. There is therefore an urgent need to raise awareness on sanitation and personal hygiene.

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