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Lassa fever’s labyrinth

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Sir: Nigerians nurse a ravaging fear of what could happen if the country`s fragile health infrastructure is brought under the cost of any deadly hemorrhagic fever on a widespread basis. Many Nigerians fear that an epidemic would result. This fear is fueled by a distrust of the health facilities available to all especially to the poorest Nigerians.

Health is wealth in many ways. When this aphorism is cast into national context and consciousness, national health invariably becomes national wealth. It is hard to imagine any treasure more precious to a country than the health of it citizens. This is because no country of sick people can be said to be truly prosperous.

It is why any disease outbreak at all, especially those with the eerie ability to spread like wildfire is such a nightmare here. One can well remember the panic the Ebola virus caused some years ago. The late Dr. Adadevoh would always be remembered with warmth and gratitude for paying the ultimate price to save the country.

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It is also why the resurgent and rampaging Lassa fever virus is becoming such a worry. It appears that as usual, the most affected are those who because of their poor conditions of living are the most vulnerable.

There have been campaigns by some state governors to keep people away from the consumption of bush meat. There was also a recent warning from a health expert about the dangers of soaking and drinking garri, something which is a lifeline for a lot of Nigerians. People have also been urged to keep their homes free of rodents.

These warnings, as grave as they are would sound entirely sensible if people had enough to eat and homes habitable enough to keep the rodents and other vectors away. But people do not and it is such a huge problem. Declining economic conditions have pushed more and more people below the poverty line. As a result, they eat whatever they can find and live wherever they can just to survive.

Illiteracy and poor hygiene are also largely to blame. People do not know and are not made to know the dangers of some of the choices they make on a daily basis. Because of that they fall prey to disease and eventually death. Lassa continues to ravage and rampage.

Then there is also the feeble response often offered by our health facilities. A country that is serious about national development usually should have as one of its strongest points, a robust health system, one which is able to respond to the health needs of its people, especially in emergencies.

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In Nigeria, the story is different especially in those areas that are poor and vulnerable because they are rural. In some of those areas, access to health facilities is sometimes days and arduous trips away; death nearer and in close proximity.

Nigeria is a place of a lot of avoidable deaths. Deaths that have come directly from a lack of proper long-term planning and poor management of available health facilities.

Because the pastures are greener elsewhere for health workers, those who can leave waste no time in doing so, leaving the country short of desperately needed health manpower. Because of corruption, funds allocated to strengthen and fortify health infrastructure against emergencies from some of these killer diseases end up as expenses for medical tourism for those who should know better.

A whole lot of work is needed if we are to escape the labyrinth of Lassa fever and other deadly diseases that continue to cause us needless and totally avoidable pain and deaths.

• Kene Obiezu, Abuja.

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Lassa fever
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