With Lassa fever ravaging most States, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has confirmed that the number of new cases has increased from 95 to 104 cases.
According to NCDC these cases are pronounced in 15 States – Ondo, Edo, Ebonyi, Kano, Kogi, Kaduna, Delta, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, FCT, Gombe, Enugu, Kebbi and Anambra.
The cheering news however, is that the number of deaths recorded has decreased to six as at February 02, 2020 compared to previous week.
In this interview, Public Health Physician and Executive Secretary, Nigeria Academy of Science (NAS), Dr Doyin Odubanjo spoke on the recurring outbreak of Lassa fever and what the government needs to do to contain it.
What is your thought on the resurgence of 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 what to do with it; including vaccine development and 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 the hospitals.
It could also be an indicator of lacking 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. Because any of those things lacking 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 be adhered to that are going to be effective. So, it is not good that we have to be doing this every year, after how 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 surrounding 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 drug from the chemist not until we are almost death 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 surrounding environment, there 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 we have or defend we have against infectious 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 the government do to curb the outbreak?
The government needs to go down to the basics of the infectious control. We need to begin with health education as to what Lassa fever is, how deadly it is and how it is spread. They should put more efforts and probably start at the hospitals or healthcare facilities levels to ensure that a health worker does not catch this disease and die. That should not happen to start with.
Before bringing a patient who is infected, we must ensure that we put down proper infectious 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, therapists would go a long way to help 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.