IN a decisive move aimed at curbing the menace of Lassa fever, the Ondo State government recently instituted a ban on the open sun-drying and spreading of food items, notably garri, along roadsides. This significant step, announced by the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Banji Awolowo Ajaka, underscores the critical need for ensuring proper food processing to safeguard consumers from potential diseases. Dr. Ajaka emphasized that any food items found being sun-dried in the open will be confiscated and destroyed by a soon-to-be-established task force.
THE urgency of this action is rooted in the alarming Lassa fever statistics affecting Ondo State. Regrettably, the state consistently ranks among the highest in Lassa fever infections and deaths nationwide. According to the latest report from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organisation, 73 percent of confirmed Lassa fever cases were reported in just three states: Ondo, Edo, and Bauchi. Ondo alone accounted for 33 percent of these cases, a concerning figure necessitating swift intervention.
DR. Ajaka clarified that Ondo State’s accurate reporting stems from its robust testing capabilities. This transparency serves as a crucial foundation for effective disease control efforts. While the government has implemented various measures, including ongoing case treatment, engagement with food processors and sellers, and collaboration with the State Waste Management Authority, the battle against Lassa fever is far from over. Thus, the ban on open sun-drying becomes a paramount necessity in this ongoing fight.
LASSA fever’s seasonal occurrence is linked to both human activities and vectors, with dry seasons providing fertile ground for the disease to spread. The virus, transmitted by rats, particularly Matomys (or multimmate) rats, can cause severe bleeding and damage blood vessels. With West African countries grappling with 100,000 to 300,000 cases and 5,000 deaths annually, addressing this public health crisis demands collective action.
WE commend the Ondo State government’s proactive approach and the formation of the task force tasked with confiscating openly spread food items. Widespread practices of roadside and open spreading are not only unsanitary but also pose severe health risks. Every year, the recurrence of this disease stains our state’s reputation and raises concerns among residents, government officials, and all stakeholders.
TO tackle this scourge, concerted efforts are imperative to remove Ondo State from the list of Lassa fever-affected states. A comprehensive public awareness campaign, using integrated communication approach is highly recommended. This approach utilises diverse communication channels such as television, radio, newspapers, internet platforms, and engaging with local leaders, community-based organizations, schools, and social groups. Religious institutions and civil service organizations, including non-profits, can play pivotal roles in disseminating accurate information about the scourge.
COLLABORATION between affected states, particularly Ondo, Edo, and Bauchi, is essential. Joint operations and shared information can bolster our collective fight against this disease. Additionally, farmers, food processors, and residents must cease the practice of open food spreading, recognizing the potential economic and social repercussions of avoidable disease outbreaks. Furthermore, substantial investment in the agricultural and food production sector is vital. Embracing modern methods of food processing will significantly reduce the reliance on open sun-drying, enhancing both food safety and economic progress in our region. The exploration of alternative means of processing food items further reinforces our commitment to a healthier and safer society.
IN urging relevant stakeholders such as the Federal Ministry of Health, the Centre for Disease Control, and the World Health Organisation, we emphasize the urgent need for vaccine development. A unified effort in this direction will not only curb the disease’s spread within Nigeria and West Africa but also globally. As plans unfold for the task force, it is paramount that its members are drawn from their respective communities. Community policing within this context ensures a more effective implementation of mandates. We emphasize the importance of integrity among task force members, for Lassa fever, like any other deadly disease, spares no one.
The battle against Lassa fever demands a collective, unwavering resolve. Ondo State must continue its proactive stance, backed by strategic partnerships, community engagement, and a relentless pursuit of innovative solutions. Only through such concerted efforts can we hope to eradicate this disease and ensure a healthier, safer future for all.