Outbreak of Lassa Fever
By Jude Chukwuemeka & Hope Samson
Sanusi Bala Mohammed - Chairman, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) Kano
Rotimi Sankore - Journalist, Policy & Development Expert
Lassa Fever appears far from being over in Nigeria as outbreak keeps being recorded year in year out. How can the current outbreak in Nigeria be controlled effectively?
Morning Crossfire takes a look at how the disease can be curbed in Nigeria. Wemimo Adewuni and Sheriff Quadry takes a deep look at the issue, having in depth conversation with guests and callers-in on the issue.
How serious is the issue of Lassa Fever? Are there measures for prevention and control on future outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria?
Rotimi Sankore sits with the show anchors and makes the following observation: "Yes, sadly, Lassa fever was first described in the 1950’s in Nigeria. But it was identified properly as Lassa Fever in 1969 when three missionary nurses died in Lassa. Lassa if you don’t know is a place somewhere in Nigeria and the disease take its name from the place.
"There is something important we really need to understand, there is a serious level of policy insincerity in Nigeria. Let me give an example apart from Lassa. So if there is a Cholera outbreak in Nigeria, the health sector takes it.
"But if you go to any developed country if there is a cholera outbreak, while the health sector is responding, they would call the water people and say, “Excuse me, why is there an infection in the water system? What are you guys doing, are you trying to burden us? We ought to be dealing with cancer, hip replacement and things you actually need either because you can’t prevent it because it is difficult or it comes as a result of old age. What is this cholera thing?
"If there is a cholera outbreak in Nigeria, the health sector will not call out the Water Minister or Commissioners or sector.
"They will pretend as if the cholera outbreak is a natural act of God. So, in this case it is the Ministry of Agriculture Well, the main route through which Lassa fever is introduced into the chain is through rats playing with or having a party in food that is spread out on the ground to dry. It can be your garri, cassava, yam flour or whatever it is, that’s the main route, especially in rural areas. Infact just to make the point Wemimo, I responded to your tweet promoting the programme.
"So, if you go to my tweet @Rotimi Sankare, you will see the thread and you will see the food spread on the floor with the rural farmers spreading it. Incase you haven’t been to the village recently and you’ve forgotten how it is done, that is what happens. In developed countries, or even in Nigeria, what they should be doing is that the Ministry of Agriculture should put out a campaign saying that “if you do not have a mechanical means of drying the foods with electricity or otherwise, elevate it from the ground. Use bamboo or whatever you have to do, elevate it from the ground and store the food in big plastic drums and not the cotton sacks that these rats can penetrate.
"Once we do that, Epidemiology 101, you identify the source of the epidemic, isolate and break the chain of transmission and that’s what they’re doing in China. Here, they are not isolating the source, they are trying to break ands just wait for it to happen every year.
"So, what he is describing now is the human to human transmission. Now look, this is really a standard that can be prevented. Anyone listening can go the website of the WHO organization, go to the disease list, click on Lassa fever. You will see, right at the bottom there is a paragraph that says health workers and exactly how they can deal with it and it is very specific about it. Don’t forget, this thing has been around since the 1950’s, identified in Nigeria in 1969 so, there is a process to prevent this. And let me just quote, it says, “Health workers may be infected by direct contact with blood body filled urine or stool of a patient with Lassa fever. When in close contact within one meter of patient, health care workers should wear face protection, a face shield, a medical mask, goggles, a clean non sterile long-sleeve gown, gloves,” and so on and so forth like that. If all these things are in place, the chances of infection are reduced to almost Nil."
“As at the 24th of January 2020, 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths had been reported in 11 states," said Centre for Disease Control @NCDCgov in a statement on Saturday 25th January 2020.
"There has been a decline in the case fatality rate of reported Lassa fever cases from 23.4% in 2019 to 14.8% this year” - says @NCDCgov.
Every year, Lassa Fever breaks out in Nigeria. The main cause is rodents interacting joyously with food spread on the floor to dry, especially in rural areas.
One possible solution to the Lassa Fever problem is mechanised drying. It will improve Food Safety.
But why has Agriculture Ministry left the problem to Health sector?
Play the video above and leave your comments after watching.