Our duty against Lassa Fever
By Bayo Fasunwon
While the debates, deliberations and consultation on the legality or otherwise of Amotekun was rife, the nation woke up to the sad reality of another attack on her people and communities by a known, but dreaded enemy. Although the Boko Haram insurgents were doing the worst, the nation was hit this time by the deadly Lassa fever. Deaths have been recorded in the North, and Western part of the country, while the East is on surveillance over some suspected cases of the deadly disease. Unlike the regionalized insurgencies, this attack is neither limited nor segregated to any particular boundary, although unfortunately too, Ondo State is one of the guinea pigs of the disease. Nigeria has become a nation under attack in recent years. One would clearly recall that this was not the first time that the nation would be hit with this deadly enemy.
This re-occurrence puts to question the efforts of the people and government since the last outbreak of the disease. One would have expected that government and especially the ministry of health in a collaborative effort would have continued the search for the preventive vaccine, cure and specialized centers before now. The lack of continuity in funding and research into the ailment is exposed by its resurgence and deadly onslaught on the good citizens of the country. It should be recalled that diseases such as polio, small pox, chicken pox, and measles are fast becoming history in the annals of Nigeria’s health dialogues. This is due to the fact that both local and international efforts were consistently applied to research, prevention and cure. The nation ought not to wait for the resurgence before advancing consistent funding, awareness campaign and preventive strategies against a disease that is likely to occur.
Persistence and commitment has been the bane of Nigeria’s development since independence. At the outbreak of the Ebola virus, health screening of international passengers, hand washing campaigns and awareness was hyped. However, when Ebola subsided, the preventive efforts also died, until Lassa fever announced its entry. South Africa does not joke with the yellow card, a sign that one has been vaccinated against yellow fever. It is funny to observe in Nigeria that people do not often go for a yellow fever vaccination except they want to travel out of the country. Just like anti-polio campaign and vaccination, the nation ought to have carried the anti yellow fever campaign to every school and homes persistently. But one wants to believe that Captain of the sleeping giant’s ship is waiting till disaster strikes before reacting.
The hand washing campaigns saw the purchase of hand washing bowls, supply of water and detergents in the wake of the health campaign. It was expected that government and concerned community leaders would have increased their efforts by making sure that good toilet facilities and pipe borne water are provided in all educational institutions in Nigeria in order to develop such hygienic culture. It is quite unfortunate to realize that ‘the concerned’ went to sleep immediately the dust on the diseases seemed to have settled. Now, harmattan is here, wells are dried up and water has become a luxury in many parts of the country, whither shall the hygiene campaign be realized.
A conference held at Abuja, when the Lassa fever made a pronounced appearance about two years ago. Many researchers presented papers and suggested solutions to the menace. The Press gave the conference local and international publicity. It was at that conference that a researcher from Adekunle Ajasin University hinted that he was so close to the antidote of the disease. After the conference, there has been no follow up on the paper presenters. The Press also went to sleep and nobody is asking questions on the research taking place under our nose. Now the fever is back, and from my lay experience with this disease, it may be a resistant variant that has announced its entry. Research needs money to thrive. Governments at any level must disabuse their minds from the passive belief that research is a waste of money. Consistent and persistent funding of research would go a long way in getting the results that would give the world an everlasting solution to many problems. But the research centers, tertiary institutions, and health institutions are groaning under the burden of insufficient or outright lack of resources for necessary interventions. Who cursed us in this nation?
Nigerians in themselves need to imbibe the culture of hygienic living. The truth be told, we live in dirt and dirty environments. The waste disposal units of every household, local and State governments needs revitalization. The conglomeration of dirt in houses and streets are invitations to rats, which are carriers of the pathogens of Lassa fever and Bubonic plagues. Since we are aware that vultures gather where the carcass are, it is the responsibility of all to remove the carcass that attracts the vultures. The situation in which, people are comfortable with habitations must be prohibited and dissuaded. Many Nigerians would wait till the monthly environmental sanitation days before doing the needful. Unfortunately, many have even contravened the assigned day, by engaging in many activities other than the actual cleaning and disposal of refuse. If the nation is truly concerned about dealing with dirt promoted diseases, such as the Lassa fever, then it is imperative that the environmental sanitation day is duly observed, and also dirt generated must be immediately disposed off.
Finally, bush burning must be curtailed. Apart from the carbon generated and the possibility of fire outbreaks, the natural habitats of the rats are also being threatened. Giving the fact that survival becomes a rule, these rats would be left with no option than to invade the residential areas, with their anti human diseases. Unfortunately, our food preservation methods are still underdeveloped, making staple food items victims of the relocation of the displaced rats. While the orientation is on, let us all also engage in critical thinking in the areas of food preservation, disease prevention and curative measures against Lassa and any other disease.