• Medical doctors, nurses protest Lassa fever deaths
Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Medical doctors, nurses and other health workers serving in the various hospitals in Ebonyi State are angry. They are angry because of the “avoidable” deaths of four of their colleagues lost to Lassa fever virus recently.
They were even angrier as they claimed that the deaths have become an annual ritual. Dr. Abel Udor Sunday, from Akwa-Ibom State, Dr. Felix Ali from Afikpo, Ebonyi State and a nurse, Mr. Iwe Innocent, from Imo State, in the wake of the outbreak of Lassa fever virus in the state lost their lives to the dreaded disease. The fourth victim died has not been confirmed of having Lassa virus as at the time of filing this report.
The medical officers were members of staff of the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki (FETHA). They were said to have handled a patient who turned out to be a carrier of Lassa fever about three weeks earlier.
The patient was said to have spread the disease to the health officers that worked on him. He reportedly died as well.
So, to register their anger, some members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and their counterparts in the nursing profession, the National Association of Nurses and Midwives (NANM), FETHA unit, took to the major streets of Abakaliki to protest their colleagues’ deaths.
The nurses were led by their chairman, Mrs. Osimiri Georgiana, while medical doctors were led by the NMA treasurer, Dr. Onwe Oliver Mbam. The nurses, with placards held a procession from the Phase 1 of the federal hospital to the Phase II while the doctors, armed with placards with various inscriptions marched from the same FETHA 1 to the front of Government House, Abakaliki, where they were addressed by the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Health Services, Dr. Sunday Nwangele.
Mbam lamented that the deaths were avoidable. He decried that ever since the official discovery of the disease in 2005 when it claimed some lives, including that of some medical personnel, the disease has consistently resurfaced in the state every year.
The visibly angry Mbam further lamented that whenever Lassa fever struck, it literally dragged some precious lives to the great beyond, including that of medical officers who made honest efforts to save the lives of the carriers.
He said that if the Federal Government had done the needful in the Virology Centre handed over to it by the Ebonyi State Government after spending a whopping N350 million, the deaths would not have occurred:
“From 2015, Lassa fever has been killing health workers. There has never been a year that passed without us losing minimum of two or three health workers. It has been like that till after last year’s occurrence, the governor took a drastic action and built a Virology Centre in FETHA and equipped it. He invited the Minister of Health to commission it.
“We understood that on the request of the governor for the payment of the money he spent, the Presidency said they would rather use the money to make that place functional. But till date, as we speak, that place is not functional.
“That was the place that our colleagues were taken to when they contacted this deadly virus. Dr. Felix Ali and Dr. Abel Sunday spent a day there; the nurse spent about four days there before they died.”
On her part, Georgiana, said: “We gathered as early as 8:30a.m in solidarity, as well as in protest over the recent happenings, the horror and the traumatic experiences that befell all of us here in the community; that is, the sudden outbreak of Lassa fever in the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki.
“We are especially sad because it took the life of our colleague, Mr. Innocent Iwe, a very diligent, hard working nurse. He could work from morning till night and cover the shift of everybody in the unit and ask you to go home. With a structure that is within us here which was put in place by the state government as we were informed, and handed over to the Federal Government, are we supposed to pass through this ordeal?”
Nwangele disclosed that the state government would be taking drastic actions to make the Virology Centre functional: “The governor is inviting an expert with his team who has managed another Virology Centre to move into this place and take over the virology centre. I have been directed to call Prof. Omilagbo of Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), and he has consented to it.”
The NMA leadership disclosed that from 2005 to 2018, the state lost more than 40 health workers and uncountable health workers to Lassa fever disease.