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How Nigeria can defeat Lassa fever, by NMA

By Chukwuma Muanya, Assistant Editor (Head Insight Team, Science and Technology)
21 January 2016   |   4:48 am
Doctors under the umbrella of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) have made recommendations to the Federal Government on how to stop the Lassa fever epidemic spreading across the country.
President NMA, Dr. Kayode Obembe

President NMA, Dr. Kayode Obembe

Wants govt to refurbish, increase number of labs able to diagnose virus
Doctors under the umbrella of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) have made recommendations to the Federal Government on how to stop the Lassa fever epidemic spreading across the country.

The NMA urged the federal government to continue in the good efforts that It has brought to the present epidemic; get the remaining three reported laboratories in the country that is able to identify the Lassa fever virus to full operation and/or establish new ones to augment these.

The association said this is very important in the Calabar-Enugu-Makurdi-Yola-Maiduguri axis of the country to augment the presently functioning ones in Lagos, Ibadan, Irrua, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano.

President NMA, Dr. Kayode Obembe, in a statement yesterday, said nobody need to panic on the matter now because the Federal Government and her Minister and Ministry of Health have risen up and are performing up to task on this matter so far – since the notification of the disease came to their attention.

The NMA said Individual states, local governments, communities, societies, families and individuals should rise up and reciprocate these responses by doing the following: Listen to the radios, TV and other mass media and keep themselves properly informed on the present Lassa situation in the country as well as especially what you should do in the interval.

The doctors want Nigerians to improve their personal hygiene as well as help their relatives, neighbours and friends to do the same.

Other recommendations by the NMA include: “Ensure that your house is free from rats, all foods and drinks properly covered and/or stored, as may be needed.

“ Encourage all cases of fevers to attend a medical and properly manned health facility very early. Do not eat rats and improve rat control in your personal houses. Ensure that everybody in your family improves on their personal and group hygiene.

“Do not partake in food drying in the streets, roads and such other places open for bush rat visitations. Ensure that all fevers or illnesses with symptoms are taken promptly to medical facilities for early diagnosis and treatment as appropriate.”

Obembe said Lassa fever, in the vast majority (some 80 per cent) of cases, passes on un-noticed – with mild fevers, body aches, tiredness, loss of appetite, and so on, as for many locally common diseases; and so, remain unnoticed.

He further explained: “However in severe cases, these will progress with sore throat, cough, vomiting, diarrhoea and unexplained bleeding from different body openings such as nose, anus, vagina and many others as a result of damage of many body organs caused by this virus. In these cases, mortality (death) rates from the disease may rise rapidly to high levels of up to 50 per cent or more. Late reporting or hiding cases of the disease at home and so multiplying the infection is usually the reason for these types of high mortality rates.

“Hospital or other man-to-man transmission of the infection follow contamination with food or body fluid transfers, providing the reasons why home members and health workers wherever Lassa fever subjects exist or are taken for came must all practice the highest levels of personal and/or professional hygiene.

“Outside of Bauchi, Kano, Nasarawa, Niger, Edo and the other states in which the current epidemics are noted, all should know that no state in Nigeria should relax that they are not involved or affected. Lassa fever is not exclusive to any state because of the random population-mixing pattern in the country.”

The NMA said all the states have the potential to be at risk of being affected if they neglect to observe basic personal and communal hygienic practices at the individual, family and community levels.

For the communities, Obembe recommended: “Encourage the cessation of free bush burning in your communities. Discourage the drying of food materials in the open streets and roads. Help to see that all cases of fevers (and other symptoms as listed above) are reported early to hospitals and that your village and Local Government Area (LGA) Health and Development Committees assist to ensure that your hospitals and health centres are equipped, staffed and made to run properly especially in regard of Lassa and other epidemic diseases.”

To local governments, the NMA recommended: “Ensure that your health facilities are staffed, equipped and run properly in regard of Lassa and other such epidemic diseases. See to it that all rampant bushes burning in the LGA are stopped or reasonably controlled. Ensure that the drying or cassava, yam and other food chips on the roads and streets is stopped completely or at least reasonably controlled.

“Help to see that all fevers in the LGA go to the health facilities very early and that all modifiable diseases are so notified by the health facilities in your LGA.”

The NMA called on state governments to increase your public education especially in all state-owned mass media; increase disease notification and surveillance activities, especially in regard of Lassa and the other epidemic diseases.

The association wants Governors to endeavor to resuscitate their state hospitals for infectious diseases – as Lagos State has at Yaba and which played such tremendous role in the curtailing of the Ebola epidemic of 2014 in the country. Obembe also want them to seek to establish their state Primary Health
Care Agencies as soon as possible; optimise them and seek to fully operationalise the ward-based PHC system with community nurse-midwives at these wards as well as the medical officer of health for each LGA, besides the other health facility-based health workers.

The NMA charged health workers: “Please remember that this is your vocation; and a challenge like this one is actually an opportunity to do your best and to shine. Revise your training in the infectious diseases and standard and universal precautions in these regards and do so all of the time and with every patient care.”