Minister blames state govts for Lassa Fever spread

Health Minister, Isaac Adewole
Health Minister, Isaac Adewole

The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, on Monday blamed poor preparation and tardiness by state governments for the current spread of Lassa Fever and other public health challenges in Nigeria.

At an emergency meeting of the National Council on Health held in Abuja, Mr. Adewole said states health ministry’s lack of preparedness and slow medical intervention in tackling the fever upon outbreak led to its spread.

The meeting held under the theme: “State of public health in Nigeria” was organised by the Federal Ministry of Health and was attended by health commissioners from all the 36 states, international and local health partners, military and paramilitary officials and health associates.

Nigeria has witnessed a Lassa Fever outbreak since the beginning of the year. In the last five weeks, 31 deaths have been recorded with test confirming 105 of the reported 405 suspected cases.

According to the minister, the meeting was conveyed to discuss the state of public health in the nation with emphasis on Lassa Fever as the most current health challenge facing the country.

Mr. Adewole said Nigeria must build on the feat achieved in the fight against Ebola to fight Lassa Fever and other diseases in the country.

He lamented that most states did not take prompt action and had few surveillance teams to look out for such diseases until causalities were recorded and the federal government stepped in.

“We knew there were going to be cases of Lassa Fever in the country and the Federal Ministry of Health had started preparation for 2018 since March 2017. Materials and training courses were given to states as at June and August respectively and by December we had written advisory letters to the states,” the minister said.

“It is sad that in spite of all the effort, we still failed. That is why we called this meeting. Why should we have lots of casualties? This is the failures of the commissioners to notify their governors of the need for preparation and early detection in each states.

“It is not the responsibility of the federal government to monitor weekly health report for the states, but they are only meant to be notified when diseases are detected and we are to provide support and not to move in to coordinate the whole activities,” he said.

He emphasised the duty of states to watch out for the health of their residents through preparedness, surveillance, coordination, response, financing and monitoring.

Mr. Adewole urged that surveillance officers be deployed to local level across the states and that health commissioners should give their governors a weekly update of the public health report on their tables.

While the state commissioners presented the health situation reports from their states and their effort in combating public health challenges, some states were noted not to have recorded any case of Lassa fever.

However, most of the states have other common diseases which have been ravaging the country since 2016, such as measles, polio, meningitis, cholera, yellow fever and Monkeypox.

Edo State Commissioner of Health, David Osifo, in his presentation said the state has recorded 56 confirmed cases of Lassa Fever out of 249 suspected cases.

The state which hosts the Irrua Specialist Hospital, where Lassa Fever victims are been treated and samples sent for confirmation, has the highest burden of the disease in Nigeria.

The commissioner said the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, released N100 million as first tranche payment for procurement of equipment to fight the disease.

He said some of the equipment to be purchased are four dialysis machines, ventilators, personal protective equipment, drugs and other consumables.

Mr. Osifo also said the state government under the deputy governor has started a sensitization campaign in the Northern and Central senatorial districts affected by the outbreak

The Ondo State commissioner, Wahab Adegbenro, said most affected parts in the state are local government areas that share borders with Edo State, leading to .the suspicion that the cases are from Edo.

Mr. Adegbenro said Ondo has had 114 suspected cases, out of which 43 were confirmed positive. The state has also recorded 10 deaths.

He said the state is using the Federal Medical Centre at Owo for treating the cases.

“We have hold down stations in Ikare, Akure, Okitipupa, where suspected persons with the disease can be held for a brief period of time. When we have such suspicions, the people are moved to Owo.

The commissioner explained that the state had embarked on a sensitisation programme involving traditional rulers and local government chairmen.

“Other efforts we have embarked upon is the use of jingles which are being aired continuously, especially in the electronic media. Our infectious disease centre in Akure will soon become operational, the structures are already ready, we are only awaiting equipment,” he added.

His Delta State counterpart, Nicholas Azinge, said the state had only three confirmed cases of Lassa fever and 24 are under surveillance. Five out of the 24 are staff of the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba.

One of the three confirmed cases is dead, one discharged and the other receiving treatment, Mr. Azinge said.

He explained that some of the challenges in tackling the disease in the state is the lack of stock of the preferred drug, Ribavirin, lack of equipment such as PPEs, non-contact thermometers and boots, among others.

Mr. Azinge also complained of delay in receiving laboratory results of samples sent for testing at Irrua

The Niger State health commissioner, Mustapha Jubril, said the state is yet to have any record of the disease this year.

Mr. Jubril said the state used to be one of the high risk burden states but since 2016 when 16 people from the state lost their lives to the disease, the state government had intensified efforts in disease surveillance.

He said the government set up an isolation centre, procured Hilux vehicles for the state epidemiological team and also set up an emergency operation centre with all the internet gadget needed to do the work.

“Above all, we have been collaborating with the World Health Organisation. What is happening in most of the states is that it is WHO that is funding the district surveillance and notification officers. In Niger, the government is also giving funds to the district surveillance and notification officers and that has gone a long way in improving their productivity and their work,” he said.

The commissioner said the state was also into rigorous campaigns and sensitization of the people, which measure he believes has been working for them.

He however advised other states to also fund surveillance and not just rely on funding from WHO so as to improve disease detection and control in Nigeria.

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Ayodamola Owoseye is a senior reporter covering the health beat for PREMIUM TIMES.  She is a graduate of the University of Ibadan, and holds a B.A in Anthropology and M.Sc in Information Science.

Ayodamola advocates gender equity and loves travelling and listening to old skool music. Twitter: @damolaowoseye


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