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Lassa Fever: Ondo gears up to tame outbreak

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“As Health Workers Call For More Effort From Govt”

The current Lassa fever outbreak endangering the people is leaving much to be desired in the health sector, despite the huge human and capital resources at their disposal. Shortly after a Director of Public Health in Enugu State, Dr. Boniface Okolo, warned Nigerians to desist from consuming raw cassava flakes (garri), outbreaks of Lassa fever in Ondo State and other parts of the country have claimed many victims. Okolo had explained that raw garri is highly exposed to the deadly disease, which makes consumers susceptible to contracting Lassa fever.

In Ondo State, many residents have become apprehensive, thinking the disease may spread from the northern part of the state to other areas.Initially, it was quite difficult ascertaining the number of affected victims. Sadly, the state Ministry of Health has not been proactive to emergencies in recent years.

But the State Epidemiologist, Dr. Steven Fagbemi, later confirmed the outbreak at an emergency meeting with Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and council chairmen from Ondo North and Central Senatorial Districts. Fagbemi noted that 84 cases had been recorded, while 16 of the patients had died, because their cases had reached advanced stage before they were brought to the hospital.

He added that 47 patients were currently on admission and responding to treatment, while 21 persons had already been treated and discharged.

The leader of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Yahaya Disu revealed that Lassa fever cases were recorded in Owo, Akoko South West, Akure South and Ondo West Local Government Areas of the state.He said the cost of treating the disease is enormous, and put it at N300, 000 per person for early response and a complicated case at N2 000, 000.

For the past five years, the North District, particularly Owo town and neighbouring communities, has endured recurring Lassa fever outbreaks almost on a yearly basis, leaving the people of the area in perpetual fear.

Meanwhile, investigation has faulted the method of processing garri in the area, which has been responsible for the constant outbreaks. Investigators said if nothing was done about it, there would always be Lassa fever outbreak in that part of the state.

It is common to see garri producers spreading cassava flakes on bare floor, on road paths, bush paths and rooftops to dry in the sun. On their part, sellers to final consumers barely cover garri in their stores. This primitive practice is not only unhygienic, but is also an invitation to rats to feast on it.

A source in one of the hospitals, who pleaded anonymity, said scores of patients have been affected by the deadly disease, and that the outbreak was getting out of control.He also disclosed that there were more reported cases at the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, which has been designated a treatment centre by the Federal Government and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), as well as other state government hospitals.

A health worker in one of the government health facilities said: “Government is not being proactive in healthcare delivery to the people, and this causes a lot of setback in times of emergencies. Most of our facilities are ill-equipped and not in position to combat situations like this.

“Many of our health facilities and health personnel are only poised to react to emergencies. They are not operating to forestall or be in charge.Most times, it takes much effort and time to put any of such situations under control.

“This is 21st century. We must not wait for situations like this to arise before we mobilise to curtail its spread. Unfortunately, this is our situation, even as health workers. The system keeps degenerating on a daily basis, and the people’s lives are at great risk.”Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), which specialise in health matters, lamented that the state is fast reversing itself on many initiatives.

They attributed the slack in quality health delivery to negligence.A source within the Health Ministry revealed that the health sector has suffered neglect. A Non-Governmental Organisation, Guaranteed Healthcare Foundation (GHCF), had urged the state government to employ the “Boy Scout Spirit” to safeguard lives and consolidate on past success recorded in the sector.

The group’s Executive Director, Dr. Dayo Adeyanju, who is the immediate past Health Commissioner, explained that actualising effective healthcare delivery requires the “Boy Scout Spirit,” which entails that every healthcare practitioner and facility must be prepared for any health eventuality.He revealed that the existing health facilities and systems put in place during Mimiko’s tenure had the capacity to curtail the spread of any outbreak.

The potency of the facilities and systems, according to him, alongside the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), were evident during the dreadful scourge of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and the 2015 ethanol-poisoning saga in Irele Local Government Area of the state.

“The state already has the structures: the Community Outbreak Control team, Facility Case Management, infectious disease hospital and the state rapid response team at the ministry,” he said.

The former commissioner disclosed that the team comprised community members, the disease notification or surveillance of the local government area, PAC coordinator, health educators, and social mobilisers.

To achieve maximum result with the existing state-of-the-art facilities available, the GHCF boss urged the state government to prioritise continuous training of health workers, to ensure effective health service delivery and meet up with current realities.

“Government must continue to educate the people through the print and electronic media, sensitisation and advocacy and deploying other technological means, so that our people would get adequate information to make informed decisions,” he said.

Nonetheless, Governor Akeredolu, in a statewide broadcast, assured the people there was no cause for panic and appealed to them to change their poor hygiene habits and improve on their health-seeking behaviours.At a stakeholders’ meeting recently, the Health Commissioner, Dr. Adegbenro said treatment of the disease was free at the Lassa Fever Treatment Centre at the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, advising that any symptom of malaria should be reported to the hospital on time.

Akeredolu has met with traditional rulers in Owo, his hometown, and its environs. He pledged to nip the annual epidemic in the bud.Noting that the incident is not peculiar to the state, he said: “This is a highly serious infectious disease that has been with us in Nigeria for some years. It is a disease that is caused by an organism and spread to man by rats.

“This outbreak has been occurring fairly regularly over many decades. Unfortunately in the past few years, it has increased in magnitude. Sadly, within the few weeks of this year, several scores have been affected and some have died from the disease.”He commiserated with families of those who lost their lives in the outbreak and patients still receiving treatment, assuring that the state government would not relent in efforts to proffer lasting solution.

While appealing for collaborative efforts to combat the deadly scourge through intense sensitisation on environmental cleanliness and hygienic living, he urged residents to report any suspicious case to the nearest hospital.


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