The year 2020 has again tested our preparedness and ability as a nation to take adequate steps to protect our citizens in cases of emergency disease outbreak in line with the core responsibility of any serious government.
For many years, we have been confronted with the deadly Lassa Fever, a serious health concern holding us by the jugular as a people while we desperately grasp for breathe. Till date, there has been no lasting solution to the virus said to have been first recorded in 1969 in a Borno community. It has remained a yearly daunting health issue in Nigeria in which thousands of our people are being dispatched to the early grave. All pronouncements by relevant authorities on how the virus has been defeated were all short lived. Little wonder we were ushered into the New Year with yet a fresh case of Lassa fever outbreak. At the last count, no fewer than 10 states which include Ondo, Edo, Delta, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Imo and others have been affected with over 80 deaths recorded.
Interestingly, one would assume that proactive measures would be taken to minimize casualty from the virus especially with the full knowledge that Lassa fever records a sporadic upsurge annually during dry season. Like the typical Nigerian culture, we allow ourselves boxed into a corner where we only adopt a fire brigade approach after colossal losses must have been recorded. Expectedly, the National Centre For Disease Control (NCDC) has said it has deployed Rapid Response Teams to support the affected states, a step not different from what was done last year and the year before.
A more potent measure would have been to develop epidemiological studies that will provide data to aid research and response operations especially for virus that has been discovered for several decades. This again speaks to our obsession for easy way out while our problems keep getting protracted and more complex. As a nation, we are deeply engrossed with the movement in a vicious cycle all year round without making progress. This is not only limited to our laxity and lackluster attitude to serious emergency health issues like Lassa Fever. It cuts across other areas of our national life including security, infrastructure, human right, education et al.
In China where a relatively new disease outbreak, Coronavirus has been recorded in Wuhan from a suspected wildlife, the authorities have shown how important and sacrosanct human life is by swinging into action to ensure that the virus is frontally sent into permanent extinction. With about 3 per cent death rate, this virus is said not to be as deadly as our local Lassa Fever. Out of about 1,300 people infected so far in this respiration-related disease, about 41 deaths have been recorded. This implies that in every 100 people infected, 97 people will likely survive. This is relatively lower than the Lassa Fever that has killed 80 people this year alone out of about 800 people infected.
Even as it stands, the Asian country is not resting on its oars, watching her citizens die carelessly before action could be taken. So far, without fear of plundering, mindless looting or artificial inflation, China is mobilizing 3 billion Yuan ($430 million) to build a special hospital just for Coronavirus. More than 100 machines are working at the construction site expected to hold the 1,000 bed capacity special hospital. A timeline of February 3, 2020 has been fixed for the completion and commissioning of this health facility. The country’s Health Commission has also indicated interest to dispatch no fewer than 1,230 doctors and other medical personnel to Wuhan, the source of the outbreak. Can the same be said of Lassa Fever in Nigeria? Even with these measures, countries like Russia, France and US are making plans to evacuate their citizens from the troubled zone.
While less economically endowed countries, including Morocco and Mauritius are joining the league of malaria-free countries, our dear country has consistently recorded malaria-related deaths in a mind-boggling proportion. According to a Malaria Fact Sheet released by US Embassy in Nigeria, there are estimated 100 million malaria cases with over 300,000 deaths per year in the country. This is despite the billions of Naira deployed to this effect on yearly basis, aside foreign interventions geared towards making the country malaria-free.
Our public health centres are battling the complex challenge of upsurge in patients, dilapidated equipment, under-funding, under-staffing, unethical conduct of health workers and corruption. With a very minimal performance capacity, they are there as the last hope for those who cannot afford the cost of oversea medical trip or decent treatment in topnotch local private health institutions. The harvests of death emanating from these centres are better imagined. Not long ago, our own First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, raised the alarm over the poor state of Villa clinic, where she could not find common tablet like paracetamol even with several billions of Naira sunk in it. That is a reflection of the state of public health centres across the country except that the rest don’t get as much billions as the Villa Clinic. Little wonder why our doctors keep leaving the shore of our dear country in droves to where a meaningful premium could be placed on their services.
No thanks to our politicians, who paradoxically pontificate as the nation’s moral compass and still travel overseas in search of medicare while our public health institutions are in total mess. It is the height of unpatriotism for any state executive to complete his tenure without erecting a befitting health centre potent enough to handle whatever ailment they rush overseas to treat.
Lassa Fever has for decades been a perennial national disgrace that must not be allowed to fester. Nothing stops the Federal Ministry of Health from engaging various stakeholders in a comprehensive research that will see an end to this. Who says a thorough fumigation against the natural carrier of the virus, multimammate rat cannot be effected across the nation to mitigate its virility? The grit and energy invested in the fight against Ebola Virus in 2014 must be brought to bear at this critical time to save our nation from further unnecessary loss of life. Prevention they say is better than cure.
Enemanna writes from Enugu