Lassa fever is on the prowl. According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) the number of new cases has increased from 95 to 104.
NCDC reports that 15 states (Ondo, Edo, Ebonyi, Kano, Kogi, Kaduna, Delta, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, FCT, Gombe, Enugu, Kebbi and Anambra have been affected.
Cumulatively, from week one to five in 2020, 47 deaths have been reported with a Case Facility Rate (CFR) put at 12.9 per cent, which is, however, lower than what it was in 2019 (17.7 per cent).
In an interview, Dr Doyin Odubanjo, a public health physician and executive secretary, Nigeria Academy of Science (NAS), spoke on the re-occurring outbreaks and what the people and government need to do to contain the scourge.
What is your thought about the re-surging Lassa fever in the country?
The Lassa fever outbreak has been experienced over the years. By now, we should have good hands-on many fronts and know what to do with it – including vaccine development and having very effective therapists already, after many decades.
And again, the fact, that it’s constantly causing the country a lot of injuries, especially in our hospitals, tells us that something is wrong about our basic procedures for infectious prevention in hospitals.
It could also be an indicator of lack of equipment or facilities such as running water in hospitals even down to the smallest healthcare centres, as well as ensuring that those small things needed like gloves and all other things are available.
If any of those things are lacking that could be a potential risk that could allow such diseases to spread apart from the health workers adhering to standard procedures. But if you do not have these facilities, there are no standard procedures to adhere to that are going to be effective. So, it is not good that we have to be doing this every year, after many decades!
What do you think the government is not doing right?
When you talk about infectious control, it concerns everybody. It’s not just about what the government is not doing right. If the government does everything and still put the necessary facilities in place, there will still be Lassa fever outbreaks. Yes, for example, if all of us are dirty and refuse to keep our environment and surroundings clean, treat our foods properly, then, we will still have outbreaks for sure. Everybody has a part to play in the fight against ending this outbreak. Also, our health-seeking behaviour needs to be improved. In most cases, we do not go to the hospital when we’re sick; rather we resort to local herbs or drugs from the chemists not until we are almost dead that we finally get up to go to the hospital.
There are many things that are wrong. By this time, the Lassa fever, which one person contracted would have ended up being transmitted to another ten. When you look at our surroundings, there are many compounds out there that are sure invitations to rodents and all sorts; the government would not come and clean your compound. So all of us need to understand that the basic attack and how to defend ourselves; the infection’s solution is basic hygiene. Good hygiene practice is the solution i.e. learning to wash your hands regularly, cleaning the environments – these are basic things the government will not do for us.
What should government do to curb the outbreak?
The government needs to go down to the basics of infection control. We need to begin with health education and know what Lassa fever is about – how deadly it is and how it is spread. They should put more effort and probably start at the hospitals or healthcare facilities levels to ensure that a health worker does not catch this disease and die.
Before bringing a patient who is infected, we must ensure that we put down proper control practices and standard operating procedures in our hospitals.
We should not be losing out health workers to Lassa fever. We can start at the community level by orienting the community and then go hi-tech by ensuring that we really put money into research.
Research into vaccinations would go a long way toward helping as it will not happen as quickly if it’s not affecting the western world. By these, if they don’t see that they cannot make billions of dollars from it; they may not pursue it as hard. We are the ones being affected; we need to take research more seriously.