Averting epidemic diseases in Nigeria

By Abubakar Jimoh

The outbreak of endemic diseases has attained a new dimension in the West African history, especially with Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) surfacing and spreading arithmetically across the sub region. Recent facts emanating from different viewpoints show that about 6, 000 deaths have been recorded so far.

However, in 2014, Nigeria had its own share of having to wrestle with the deadly virus leaving about eight people dead. The Nigerian ordeal started when Mr. Patrick Oliver Sawyer, a Liberian-American lawyer who was notable for being the index case for the introduction of Ebola virus disease into Nigeria, visited the country during the West African Ebola epidemic.

Nevertheless, epidemic occurs when a new disease is identified among a given human population, and during this period, substantially exceeds what is expected based on recent experience. Prior to Ebola Virus, diseases such as Cholera, Meningitis, and Polio are well-known in Nigeria.

For instance, before 1997, it was reported that 15,000 people suffered from cerebrospinal meningitis leaving the death toll to over 240 victims daily; while about 1,390 patients were treated for cholera and thousands for measles. About 25 people were hospitalised in Kwara state cholera outbreak in July 2011; while no fewer than 194 people were confirmed infected by cholera in Jigawa state.

Also, from the international statistical accounts, a study conducted by the United States Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention (2010) revealed that influenza spreads around the world in seasonal epidemics; resulting in the deaths in seasonal epidemics; resulting in the deaths of between 250,000 and 500,000 people every year, while on average 41,400 people died each year in the United States between 1979 and 2001 from influenza.

Meanwhile, health workers treating patients, family members or others in close contact with infected people and mourners who have direct contact with the bodies of the deceased as part of burial ceremonies remain the most vulnerable groups to the Ebola Virus. Common cases of the Virus in humans have occurred as a result of human-to-human transmission from direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with the blood, or other bodily fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected people; broken skin or mucous membranes of a healthy person having contact with contaminated environments by an Ebola patient’s infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen, or used needles. Additional transmission has been reported from many communities during funerals and burial rituals where mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person.

In attempt to tackle the intensifying rate of disease outbreaks in the country, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has gone in collaboration with World Health Organisation (WHO) and Nigerian Medical Associations to help in prevention and provision of adequate and quick response to the victims of various social epidemics through public health education and enlightenment in states and grassroots level throughout the six geo-political in the country. Also, at the peak of Ebola Virus, NEMA had organized meetings with relevant stakeholders sensitizing them on their roles and responsibilities toward combating the Virus. This was in addition to related publications distributed to create awareness of the Virus.

Consequently, individuals are advised to keep their environment hygienic and save from various diseases; as maintaining a good hygiene would help to reduce the spread of social related diseases. In the opinion of the CDCP, it was resolved that since influenza spreads through both aerosols and contact with contaminated surfaces, sanitizing may help prevent some infections. In this case, hygiene would refer to the set of standard practices that prevent spread of disease-causing organism. A hygienic environment can be achieved individuals practice body hygiene, sleep hygiene, personal hygiene, mental hygiene, and dental hygiene in their daily life.

In manufacturing of food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and among others there is a need for the Regulatory Bodies such as National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration Control (NAFDAC) to ensure that various goods produce for consumption are complied with microbial specification appropriate to their uses. This will not only help to prevent individuals from manufacturing related epidemics, but also ensure hygiene related practices in our industrial sector.

Meanwhile, the international journal of Hygiene and environmental Health has recorgnised three different types of hygiene that every individual must preserve for safety living; and these are body hygiene which includes constant cleanness for healthy living, optimal health, sense of well being, social acceptance, and prevention of spread of illness; while individual personal hygiene practices must comprise adequate medical checkup, regular washing, bathing, and healthy living. Thus, adequate consultation of the nearest medical centre for professional advice would be a vital step combating a disease outbreak.

The Medical practitioners across the world have recommended that that isolation of an infected person which would be a reasonable measure to prevent contagious diseases from being spread from a patient to other to other patients, health care workers, and visitors. Following this, when small numbers of people are affected, isolating the sick would be the best option to reduce the risk of transmission.

In hospitals, quaternary ammonium compounds and bleach can be used to sanitize rooms or equipment that have been occupied by patient with influenza symptom; while at home this can be done effectively with a diluted chlorine bleach. This will help to prevent spread of the disease to other patients.

The ongoing economic globalization has largely given birth to the emergence of various diseases across Africa and increased the existing ones. A report from European Molecular Biology Organisation (2004) has lamented that one major problem of the economic globalization is the increase in internationalization of health risks such as communicable and non-communicable diseases; while the complex link between globalization and health is a multifaceted phenomenon that can affect health in myriad ways. Therefore, NAFDAC must partner the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to ensure health conformity of our various import goods.

In recent studies conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), it was discovered that regular hand-washing practices with soap after defecating and before eating or preparing food have helped to reduce the incidence of diarrhea which is the second leading cause of death among children under 5 years old, by almost 50% in parts of the world. The practices have also reduced to barest minimal, the incidence of other diseases; notably pneumonia, trachoma, skin and eyes infections, Cholera and dysentery among others diarrhea.

Apart from this, the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) has recommended good personal health and hygiene habit such as avoid regular touching of eyes, nose or mouth; frequent hand-washing with soap and water; covering coughs and sneezes; avoiding contact with sick people; shunning smoking; and staying at home during sickness among others, are the effective ways to reduce transmission of influenza.

Awareness is an important factor that every individual must be embraced to avoid being a victim of epidemic outbreaks. This was one of the key measures that helped Nigeria to instantly get rid of Ebola Virus. In respect of this, NEMA in collaboration with stakeholders has instituted alert on various epidemic outbreaks. The Agency has achieved this objective by initiation of sensitization campaign through the massive use of mass media across the six geo-political zones and direct contacts with the grassroots in the country.

More importantly, provision of adequate safety measures and working equipment for health personnel treating Ebola patients across West Africa to avert continuous spread and exposure to the infection; with comprehensive briefs for health-care providers at all levels of the health system – hospitals, clinics, and health posts on the nature of the disease and how it is transmitted, and strictly follow recommended infection control precautions.

Furthermore, massive awareness and sensitization by governments, civil society and the media to create well-informed communities/individuals on the causes of and preventions from contacting Ebola Virus; and persistent demand for medical support from advanced nations with curiosity to advance the regional institutions to achieve technologically-know-how to curtail existing and future outbreaks have become imperative.

Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator, Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI); and can be reached at abujimoh01@gmail.com


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