World Health Day: Is Nigeria still grappling with vector borne diseases?

nigeria minister of healthBy Abbas Aminu Bamalli

Health is related deeply to life-style. Ideal health will however, always remain a mirage because everything in our life is subject to change. Health may be described as a potentiality—the ability of an individual or a social group to modify himself or itself continually, in the face of chang¬ing conditions of life not only, in order to function better in the present but also to prepare for the future.

The importance of health in personal life cannot be minimized. It has come to be regarded as a prerequisite for optimum socio-economic development of man. Health care as a right of every individual has been recognized in many countries.

Due to the importance of health, the World Health Organisation (WHO), set aside every 7th of April, every year, as World Health Day to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO in 1948.

Each year a theme is selected that highlights a priority area of public health. The Day provides an opportunity for individuals in every community to get involved in activities that can lead to better health.

The topic for 2014 is “Protection against Vector Borne Diseases (VBDs)”.

Vectors are organisms that transmit pathogens and parasites from one infected person (or animal) to another. Vector-borne diseases are illnesses caused by these pathogens and parasites in human populations.

It is a known fact that Vectors are most commonly found in areas and habitations characterized by scarcity of potable water, poor housing conditions, poor environmental hygiene and abject poverty, succinctly summarized by the WHO as “Communities left behind by development”.

Recently in Nigeria, the Federal government in its fight against vector disease in the country revealed that the prevention of transmission ofDengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF) is similar to the prevention of Malaria, therefore, it is very important to give environmental sanitation and mosquito bite control a high priority to reduce mosquitoes-human contact and also to eliminate multiplication of mosquitoes that are the vectors of the DHF virus.

The state Minister for Health, Dr. Khaliru Alhassan, who disclosed this in Abuja while addressing pressmen, in response to a media report over outbreak of Ebola diseasein the country said all port health posts and border medical centres have been put on high alert to screen travelers from countries with confirmed EHF occurrence.

He reaffirmed that the laboratories at the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), have the capacity to confirm DHF and other Viral Hemorrhagic fevers, adding that the ministry has also intensified surveillance activities on the disease and all state ministries of health have been alerted

He revealed that the Federal Ministry of Health is in the process of enhancing multi-sectoral collaboration with the livestock department of Federal Ministry of Agriculture, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), and some international partners towards ensuring the good health of Nigerians.

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), is of the view that not until an aggressive, deeply committed, well-funded and supervised environmental management program is instituted, Nigeria may not heave a sigh of relief in her fight against the menacing unsolicited advances of the disease laden organisms which have undoubtedly contributed to the huge disease burden in the country.

The Association, in a statement signed by its President, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, notes with utmost regret that at this point in Nigeria’s history, the country is still grappling with issues of development at the very foundational levels.

While the Association applauds government on the historic eradication of Guinea worm in Nigeria in 2013, as well as certain landmark achievements of the federal government in the establishment and sustenance of certain government agencies and bodies, it however expressed concern about the dwindling budgetary allocation to the health sector which is capable of incapacitating the established agencies of government in rendering their statutory as well as contingency roles in healthcare delivery.

According to Dr. Enabulele, “aside from the fact that Nigeria is yet to implement the 2001 Abuja declaration of African Heads of State, which prescribes an allocation of a minimum of 15% of the national budget of African countries to the health sector, the budget for health is sadly on the decrease, with inexplicable poor budgetary releases for health programs”.

He said the poor fund allocation has greatly hindered some important public health programs like active disease surveillance, epidemiological studies, research activities and mass media campaigns.

Enabulele therefore, called on the various arms of government at all levels involved with appropriation to reconsider the amount allocated to the health sector to enable concerned Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) prepare adequately to manage whatever emergencies and pandemics that might likely ensue.

To fight Vector borne diseases in the country, NMA urged the Port Health Services units to intensify their efforts as it concerns their very strategic role in identifying and quarantining infected persons migrating from affected nations of the world, especially with the recent reported outbreak of Ebola viral disease in some countries within the African continent.

Expressing more concern on Nigerian’s health, NMA urged governments at local, state and federal levels to scale up their public health enlightenment and environmental management strategies, saying,“We expect them to enforce strict implementation of enabling public health and housing laws, and institute measures for proper waste, sewage disposal and other preventive measures, construct roads with standard and well maintained drains.

“We call on Government to ensure that Nigerians are vaccinated against vector-borne diseases that have preventive vaccines, while providing drugs for known vector-borne diseases”, said Enabulele.

According to WHO, the most deadly vector-borne disease, malaria, caused an estimated 660 000 deaths in 2010. Most of these were African children. However, the world’s fastest growing vector-borne disease is dengue, with a 30-fold increase in disease incidence over the last 50 years. Globalization of trade and travel and environmental challenges such as climate change and urbanization are having an impact on transmission of vector-borne diseases, and causing their appearance in countries where they were previously unknown.

The Health Body further disclosed that in recent years, renewed commitments from ministries of health, regional and global health initiatives, with the support of foundations, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and the scientific community – have helped to lower the incidence and death rates from some vector-borne diseases.

It said, the World Health Day 2014 will spotlight some of the most commonly known vectors – such as mosquitoes, sandflies, bugs, ticks and snails – responsible for transmitting a wide range of parasites and pathogens that attack humans or animals. Mosquitoes, for example, not only transmit malaria and dengue, but also lymphatic filariasis, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever.

The campaign aims to raise awareness about the threat posed by vectors and vector-borne diseases and to stimulate families and communities to take action to protect themselves. A core element of the campaign will be to provide communities with information. As vector-borne diseases begin to spread beyond their traditional boundaries, action needs to be expanded beyond the countries where these diseases currently thrive.

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