If the Nigerian government continues with this level of lacklustre attitude and blame game concerning Lassa fever, then Nigerians should be ready to experience the recent tragedy that befell Liberia and a few other neighbours when they were ravaged by the much dreaded Ebola virus. Gradually, Lassa fever, which kills almost like Ebola, has continued to spread.
Currently, in spite of the fact that Nigeria is bedevilled by inability to generate reliable data and statistics to back up claims, the country’s Minister of Health, Prof. Issac Adewole, confirmed just days ago that the country currently has 212 cases of Lassa fever in 17 states. This is apart from the varied but alarming figures of those who have lost their lives to the ailment, some of them medical doctors handling some cases.
Even though we agree that the importation of Ebola into Nigeria by Patrick Sawyer cannot be compared with the current outbreak of Lassa fever, which is spread by rats, we declare that it is a national embarrassment that those in government, both at the federal and state levels, are not taking active steps to curtail its spread except for the meeting that was held between the minister and state commissioners for health this week in Abuja.
We understand that Ebola was a single case brought into the country and detected early enough by the late Dr. Stella Ameyor Adadevoh, who also got killed trying to save the entire country. But weeks before Sawyer entered Nigeria, there had been enlightenment in every part of the country. Suffice to say that the literate, semi-literate and non-literate all knew about the disease before it got to Nigeria. This is not the case with the current situation we have on our hands.
We also recall when Lassa fever broke out in Nigeria some years ago and how its spread was stopped with massive enlightenment across all states. The Lagos State House of Assembly, for example, compelled every member to hold enlightenment programmes in their constituencies as well as print posters and distribute flyers to educate the people. This was the same step that was taken to curtail Ebola spread.
In the present situation, however, we are forced to wonder why there is this seeming lethargy on the part of the government. The states are worse off in this regard because, like the minister said, there are cases where states refused to disclose cases. In other states yet to experience any case, the governments have continued like the ailment is occurring in another planet and cannot spread their states.
Ogun and Lagos states are some of the few states that have taken some proactive steps. The Ogun State governor, Mr. Ibikunle Amosun, recently designated three hospitals to handle cases of Lassa fever just as the government announced emergency numbers which residents could call should there emerge any case. Benue State also banned the consumption of rats, which is a major delicacy in the state. Niger, Bauchi, Taraba, Kano, Edo, Nassarawa, Plateau and Rivers where the ailment is believed to be prevalent have not taken up the gauntlet. Instead, the focus is more on political developments. In many parts of Edo, rats are major delicacies. Youths are often seen hunting for rats in broad daylight in places like Igarra and many parts of Akoko-Edo. Cases have also been reported in Osun and Ekiti.
In echoing what Prof Adewole said, all Healthcare managers should not deceive their political leaders that all is well. All states should consider themselves at risk. Every state government is believed to have a grasp of its people, their locations and ways of life. There should be implementation of strategies to reach out to these people, not just in the urban settings, but those in the rural areas. Many states of the federation have a lot of people in rural dwellings who hardly connect with civilisation and even hardly know what goes on except when politicians visit to solicit for votes.
This is also the best time for the country’s National Orientation Agency to prove that it knows its onions and that its staff know why they earn salaries monthly. Nigerians must also take advantage of being their brothers’ keepers; everyone who knows about Lassa fever should educate others. Religious leaders should also enlighten their teeming followers at worship places. Prevention is better than cure. This is a wake up call everybody must heed.
Lassa fever or Lassa haemorrhagic fever, according to Wikipedia, is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus and first discovered in 1969 in the town of Lassa, in Borno State, Nigeria. Similar to Ebola, clinical cases of the disease had been known for over a decade, but had not been connected with a viral pathogen.
The search engine adds that Lassa frequently infects people in West Africa. It results in 300,000 to 500,000 cases annually and causes about 5,000 deaths each year. Outbreaks of the disease have been observed in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Central African Republic. The primary animal host of the Lassa virus is the Natal multimammate mouse (Mastomys natalensis), an animal found in most of sub-Saharan Africa. The virus is probably transmitted by contact with the faeces or urine of animals accessing grain stores in residences.