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In search of antidote for waterborne diseases

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Women fetching water from a tap

Beyond fear of its spread and contamination, the Coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need for government to address the issues of inadequate water supply and in some cases, non-availability of potable water across the country.

Although successive administrations have tried to tackle this long-standing problem, effective solution remains far-fetched. Indeed, the matter seems to have worsened, as citizens have had to device other methods in sourcing good drinking water.

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The gravity of the matter was highlighted in a recent report by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which revealed that 69 million Nigerians do not have access to safe water, while 19 million citizens have to walk long distances to get water, and less than 35.0 per cent of households has access to potable water.

The body stated that more than 100,000 under five children die yearly in Nigeria, due to such water-borne diseases as diarrhoea and cholera, among others.

And now with Coronavirus in the picture, the problem seems a little more compounded.

One of the safety guidelines for curbing the spread of the virus is frequent washing of hands with soap and water. But with the non-availability of water, how possible is this? What are the factors militating against Nigerians’ access to clean water? What are the solutions?

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Public Relations Officer, Lagos Water Corporation (LWC), Rasaq Anifowoshe, enumerated challenges that are preventing the corporation from producing adequate water, to include population explosion and erratic power supply.

He explained that these challenges disrupt the corporation’s operations on a daily basis.

He said: “Presently, the population explosion in Lagos State is affecting the corporation, as Lagos has over 22 million people, with steady influx of people looking for greener pasture.

“Lagos Water Corporation produces 210 million gallons per day (210MGD), which is below the water demand of 540 million gallons in the state. With the ageing infrastructure of water plant, this makes it impossible to produce at optimal capacity.”

Anifowoshe listed water leakage and burst pipes as other challenges preventing the corporation from meeting the demand of the ever-increasing population of Lagos State.”

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“However, the administration of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu is determined to bridge the gap of water demand in the state, with the ongoing 70GMD Adiyan 11 to supply water to an additional three million residents in the Western part of the state…”

President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Innocent Ujah, said the issue of lack of potable water and the consequent water-borne diseases deserve urgent attention. He underscored the challenge of quality and quantity of water supply in Nigeria.

In his view, water-borne diseases, such as cholera and thyroid, which are contracted from dirty environment and contaminated water, pose a serous health problem in the country.

He said: “When I was director of Nigeria Institute of Medical Research, we did a quick rapid assessment of water among all state capitals and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, about three or four years ago. And we discovered that there is no capital city in Nigeria that runs pipe borne water 24 hours continuously. It is epileptic, while in some places, it does not exist at all.

“Therefore, we live in a country, where majority of the citizens access their water either for bathing, drinking and other activities from streams and rivers. These are largely not safe and obviously, these are the ones that create problems and give rise to waterborne diseases.”

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He urged federal and state ministries of water resources to collaborate with the Ministry of Health to identify challenges confronting adequate water supply.

He said: “Water is life, and if people have potable water, it will solve many problems. Many people die of related waterborne diseases. Hopefully, we can contain these diseases. We need to have deep wells that will be safe from contamination. It is also important to create boreholes that will serve particular communities. Once we do this, most of the problems would be solved.”

Dr. Modupe Akinyinka, a Senior lecturer and Consultant Public Health Physician at the Department of Community Health and Primary Health Care, Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM), said government should ensure and enforce proper environmental sanitation, especially in area of proper excreta and refuse disposal in the communities, provide safe potable water for all citizens and increase funding for the health sector to ensure access to prompt health care at all times.

According to Akinyinka, most people infected with water-borne diseases do not develop symptoms, until after some days, thereby infecting others unconsciously in the process.

She said: “Among people who develop symptoms, the majority have mild or moderate symptoms, while a minority develops acute watery diarrhoea with severe dehydration. This can lead to death if left untreated.

“Signs and symptoms of severe acute diarrhoea include production of ‘rice water stools’ and vomiting, which result in rapid dehydration. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include rapid heart rate, dry mucous membranes, muscular cramps, thirst, loss of skin elasticity and low blood pressure. All these can be solved with availability of potable water.”

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