The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has described the recent outbreak of Lassa fever across the country as a reflection of the abysmally low level of preparedness in handling infectious diseases, especially viral hemorrhagic fever, at all levels of healthcare delivery.
The frequency of the outbreaks also underscores the deplorable state of healthcare delivery in Nigeria, the doctors’ association said in a statement Monday.
The statement came a few hours after a Lassa fever expert, Oyewale Tomori, criticised Nigeria’s response to the deadly viral disease, saying the government has not done enough to check its recurrence.
Nigeria is currently battling an outbreak of Lassa fever, with 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths in 11 states, between January 1 and 24.
Although the National Agency for Disease Control has activated a National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to coordinate the response activities, figures are gradually on the rise as new states in the last few days have been reporting suspected and confirmed cases of the disease.
The disease has become an all-year-round occurrence in the country, with cases peaking from November to May.
This has become a major concern for health experts as there has been no solution to contain the disease. Mr Tomori, a professor of virology and one of the foremost Lassa fever researchers, said the government is yet to make any progress in finding the root causes of the outbreak.
“At the beginning of every year, as Lassa Fever rages, we are told not to panic, and that the situation is under control. You remember, how our Police Force always have everything under control. So it is with the Lassa Fever situation,” he said.
The NMA in the statement signed by its President, Francis Faduyile, appealed to health authorities at all levels to prioritise capacity-building of healthcare professionals on standard infection prevention and control measures.
The association said the speedy and full implementation of the National Health Act 2014 and increase of budgetary allocation to the health sector to 15 per cent will give the health sector the much-needed capacity to be proactive in addressing outbreaks and finding its root causes.
“All must also be committed to the revamping of the primary healthcare system.”
The doctors called on corporate organisations, NGOs and religious organisations to work with government and the Nigerian Medical Association in “intensifying ongoing public enlightenment campaign to ensure that all Nigerians are educated especially those at the rural communities on preventive strategies and prompt care-seeking.”
The NMA commiserated with families of people who lost their lives to the deadly disease, especially the two Nigerian doctors who died in the line of duty at the Amino Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano.
At least 29 people have died, including two doctors and a pregnant woman across 15 states hit by Lassa fever.
Abia, Bauchi, Borno, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Ogun Ondo, Plateau, Rivers and Taraba states have been affected in the most recent scourge.
Ondo State has recorded the highest number of casualties with 16 deaths.
Lassa Fever is a Viral Hemorrhagic Disease caused by the Lassa fever Virus which is endemic in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. This acute viral illness, discovered in Nigeria in 1969, has caused immense devastation to families including healthcare professionals whose deaths are most times the pointer to the beginning of an outbreak.
Rodents are the natural reservoir of the Lassa fever virus and transmission primarily occurs through contact with its excreta and blood and consumption of contaminated food items. Spread is through direct or indirect contact with the body fluid of infected individuals.
The symptoms include fever, headache, general body weakness, malaise, muscle pain, redness of the eyes, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, chest pain, unexplained bleeding (from the mouth, nose, anus, other routes and into the skin), convulsion etc.
Nigerians are advised to go to the nearest health facility in case of any of these symptoms and others requiring medical attention.