Nigeria to reactivate isolation centres over outbreak of COVID-19, deadly flu in China

Following the outbreak of an unknown deadly flu in China, which has led to the death of residents, including three Nigerians, amid the resurgence of Coronavirus in the pandemic’s country of origin, the Federal Government may reactivate COVID-19 isolation centres across the country.

• OSGF, NCDC keep mum
• China reports 13,000 COVID-19 deaths last week
• Anxiety as Lassa fever cases, deaths soar
• Edo, NCDC disagree on FG’s efforts, intervention by international agencies 
• Tomori: FG failed to implement recommendations of local research findings on best response to disease

Following the outbreak of an unknown deadly flu in China, which has led to the death of residents, including three Nigerians, amid the resurgence of Coronavirus in the pandemic’s country of origin, the Federal Government may reactivate COVID-19 isolation centres across the country.
This is coming at a time Nigeria announced the outbreak of Diphtheria in Kano State, which at the weekend, had claimed 34 lives, while Edo State, yesterday, recorded 10 more cases of Lassa fever, raising the total number of confirmed persons in the state to 81, with eight deaths.

A memo from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of Federation (OSGF) addressed to the Minister of Health, Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), and Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), said the “deadly flu portends danger for Nigeria.”

The leaked memo dated January 16, 2023, and signed on behalf of the SGF by the Permanent Secretary at the OSGF, Aliyu Mohammed, informed the Minister and agency heads that the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), had on December 13, 2022 raised concerns over the outbreak of an unknown deadly flu, following the death of some residents, which included three Nigerians. 

“The initial clinical analysis ruled out COVID-19, but the symptoms of the fatal flu include dry throat, fever, and difficulty in breathing. Hospitals in Guangzhou have been inundated with patients having the disease, with seven Nigerians said to be in critical condition as a result of the flu,” the memo stated.

The SGF, therefore, said: “Considering the potential danger of this outbreak to human beings, there may be need to note the development with a view to emplacing measures to reactivate COVID-19 centres across the country.”

It added that the outbreak of the new deadly flu portends danger considering the experience of COVID-19, noting that of concern is the fact that the new flu is yet to be diagnosed, an indication that the flu could have spread beyond the shores of China, especially as millions of migrant workers who returned home for Lunar New Year celebrations, travelled back to their various bases outside China across the world.

When contacted last night, NCDC and Office of the SGF declined comment on the matter. The Guardian tried to confirm the authenticity of the memo, but a high ranking official in the OSGF, who earlier promised to get a feedback, later declined comments. 

The Guardian also sought to know from the Director General of NCDC, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, the centre’s findings about the flu in question and measures being put in place to avert importation or ensure prompt testing in case of any outbreak in Nigeria. He too declined making comments on the matter. 

Yesterday, China entered its Lunar New Year with millions praying for health after three years of stress and financial hardship under the COVID-19 pandemic, as officials reported almost 13,000 new deaths caused by the virus between January 13 and 19.

Queues stretched for about one kilometre outside the iconic Lama temple in Beijing, which had been repeatedly shut before pandemic restrictions ended in early December, with thousands of people waiting for their turn to pray for their loved ones.

There are concerns that Lassa fever cases and deaths in the country may soar as the weather gets hotter/dryer and as governments of affected states continue to work at cross purposes with the Federal Government.

The Edo State government had late last week called on international organisations to come to the rescue of the state over the outbreak of Lassa fever, saying the Federal Government had abandoned the state despite multiple pleas for help.

The Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, who made this known, decried the neglect by the Federal Government on the recent outbreak of Lassa fever prevalent in about three councils and has, therefore, appealed to international donor agencies and groups to come to its aid.

Also, the Commissioner for Health, Prof. Obehi Akoria, noted that most of the deaths recorded in the state were sick persons who failed to report to a proper hospital for care until they developed complications.

However, NCDC, the agency of the Federal Government in charge of infectious diseases control, yesterday, told The Guardian: “It is not true that NCDC has refused to help Edo State in the ongoing Lassa fever response. The Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and NCDC continues to offer both material and technical support to all states with Lassa fever, especially high-burden states like Edo, Ebonyi and Ondo states.”

NCDC boss, Adetifa, said healthcare is a collective responsibility of governments at all levels. He said while NCDC has the mandate to lead the prevention, preparedness and response to public health emergencies, states also have statutory responsibilities for planning and delivery of preventive and curative health services to their citizenry.

According to reports, Edo has recorded a total of 132 suspected cases, 41 confirmed cases and two deaths between January 2 and 15.

On the reason for the spike, Adetifa said: “Yearly, during the dry season, we anticipate a peak in the rise of cases of Lassa fever because of human practices such as bush burning. The dry season reduces food sources in the wild, which together contribute to rodents naturally infected with the Lassa fever virus moving from their natural habitats into human habitats to find food. Traditional food processing practices such as drying of foodstuff in open spaces, consumption of undercooked bush meat and poor environmental sanitation all work in tandem to increase case numbers.”

On cure and treatment for Lassa fever, he said: “Currently, antivirals like Ribavirin are used to manage Lassa fever cases in Nigeria along with other supportive treatments. Early presentation and early institution of treatment give the best results.”

He, however, said clinical trials for Lassa fever vaccine have not commenced in Nigeria.

Chairman, Expert Committee on Immunisation in Nigeria and a foremost virologist, Prof. Oyewole Tomori, yesterday, said the current Lassa fever situation confirms that Nigeria is not adequately prepared for any future disease outbreak. 
He said, according to the NCDC, Edo and Ondo states have been responsible for between 60 to 75 per cent of the number of confirmed Lassa fever cases reported in Nigeria in the last five years.
The virologist added: “Despite what we already know about these diseases nationally and in the two hotspot states in the country, we have always paid lip service to the control of the disease as evidenced by the yearly haphazard response and committed failure to implement and follow through with well-designed preparedness plans for improved patient care and sustained high-level surveillance with highly efficient laboratory back up services.

“In 2021, in pretended efforts to effectively respond to disease outbreaks, the government was reported to have allocated billions of naira to support plans and programmes to improve national disease preparedness and response. The Irrua Lassa Fever Research Institute was one of the centres selected to benefit from this huge allocation of funds, to expand treatment wards, and improve diagnostic services.
“Government officials at the highest and topmost levels visited Irrua to discuss the plans for this upgrade and improvement. Since that visit, not a grain of sand have been deposited in Irrua. Therefore, it is annoying to hear that our government is seeking international aid for the same programme we allocated huge sums of money for, but which we failed to implement. The success story of the Irrua center is more a reflection of international support and foreign aid.
“That we are resorting to external aid is a reflection of the dysfunctional, uncoordinated, and unresponsive public health system we have. Lassa fever and other infectious diseases continue to decimate our populations and will continue to do so, so long as our government continues to seek foreign aid and assistance, while allocating and dispensing funds for the same project under the thick cloud of opaque and unaccountable translucency,” he added.

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