FCT braces for COVID 19, Lassa fever challenge

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From the beginning of the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus in China, countries that are close allies of China, including Nigeria, started taking measures to ensure the virus did not spread to their countries.

In Nigeria, the Federal Government did not waste time in deploying health experts to mount surveillance at various points of entry. This deployment comes at a huge cost in terms of equipment, time and resources.

The Nigerian authorities, just like their counterparts across the world, have been apprehensive in recent times over the outbreak of Coronavirus that has claimed hundreds of lives in China and several other Asian countries.

It is no news that the Coronavirus outbreak in China has prevented many Nigerians resident in that country from returning home. Also, many Nigerians and nationals of other countries who travelled to China for one thing or the other got stuck. Reports indicate that many businesses in Nigeria are already counting their losses as a result of the development.

Coronavirus is zoonotic, meaning they are normally transmitted between animals while some can be transmitted from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected person.

The first case of infection was confirmed in China on January 7, 2020 and preliminary investigations showed that most patients either visited or worked in the seafood wholesale market in Wuhan City.

Thereafter, exactly on January 20, about 278 laboratory-confirmed cases of 19-nCoV infection with six deaths were reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) since the first case was reported on December 31, 2019.

Research has it that an infected person shows severe respiratory symptoms like cough and breathing difficulties. Death as a result of the infection is said to be rare and occurs mostly in patients with underlying ailments.

Part of the measures taken by the Federal Government to prevent the outbreak of the deadly disease in Nigeria centred on seaports and land borders. The Federal Ministry of Health placed vessels from China, Japan, Thailand and South Korea on strict surveillance.

Under the new regulations at the seaports, all vessels coming to Nigeria from the affected countries must notify the Port Health unit at the seaports and land borders, failing which the vessel would not be allowed into the nation’s territorial waters.

Lassa fever is also a virus that the country takes seriously. Lassa fever is usually spread through contact with the urine or faeces of an infected multi-mammate mouse.

Spread can then occur via direct contact among people. The best way to prevent human infection is to reduce rat population and avoid any contact with rat excreta.

To avoid contact with rat excreta, people are advised to always wash their hands before handling or eating food; store food in covered containers; cook all food stuff thoroughly and discourage rats by clearing any rubbish in or around the house. One can also keep a cat.

As part of proactive measures to avert possible outbreak of Lassa fever and Coronavirus in the nation’s capital, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Minister, Malam Muhammad Bello and the Minister of State, Dr. Ramatu Aliyu, have since flagged off sensitisation and awareness campaign in the six area councils.

According to the Minister of State, the awareness campaign was aimed at ensuring that residents, especially mothers, take up responsibility in preventing Lassa fever and coronavirus outbreaks in the territory.

She stressed that the battle against these global diseases should be the collective responsibility of both government and personal commitment.

Aliyu used the occasion to task religious leaders, traditional institutions and civil society organisations to join hands in the sensitisation campaign. She charged Area Council chairmen in the FCT to replicate this in markets and other locations in their various councils.

The Minister explained that one of the key preventive measures against Lassa fever and coronavirus infections is neighbour to neighbour information sharing. It also entails advocacy and sensitisation visits to communities, markets and other places where people live and gather, for the purpose of raising awareness.

It was highlighted that transmission from person to person can occur following exposure to the virus in the blood, tissue, urine, faeces or other body secretions of an infected individual. This has necessitated the promotion of good environmental and personal hygiene in individual homes.

Mrs Aliyu said, “Humans become infected from direct contact with the urine and faeces of the rat which contains the virus, through touching soiled objects, eating contaminated food, or exposure to open cuts or sores.

“Transmission from person to person can occur following exposure to the virus in the blood, tissue, urine, faeces or other body secretions of an infected individual. Promoting good environmental and personal hygiene is to discourage rodents from entering homes and markets and having access to food stuff”.

The Minister pledged the FCT administration’s commitment to activities aimed at strengthening the awareness and prevention of Lassa fever and corona virus diseases and outbreaks.

She reminded parents and caregivers of the need to ensure that they follow all the preventive measures. In his remarks, chairman of Gwagwalada Area Council, Adamu Mustapha Danze, commended the administration for taking proactive steps toward curbing the outbreak of Lassa fever and corona virus in the territory.

He observed that taking the campaign to market women was a step in the right direction, adding that when women and mothers take leadership positions in matters of public health importance, the results are usually great and rewarding to families and society at large.

While enlightening the public, the Director of Public Health and Human Service Secretariat, Dr. Okechukwu Josephine, revealed that Lassa fever is an epidemic prone zoonotic disease.

She added that it is an acute viral illness, a haemorrhagic fever that was first reported in Lassa community in Borno state, where two missionary nurses died from an unusual febrile illness.

Minister summons emergency meeting

Despite confirmation that there is no case of Lassa fever in Abuja, FCT Minister, Muhammad Bello, did not want to leave any situation to chance.

He had since summoned an emergency meeting of medical experts and senior members of the FCT administration with other stakeholders.

Bello said that meeting was to ascertain the status of the FCT following Lasa Fever outbreaks in some neighboring states and also the preparedness of the FCT health authorities to tackle possible outbreak of the disease within the territory.

The meeting was attended by experts in human virology and infection prevention and control from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), World Health Organisation (WHO), University of Abuja Teaching Hospital Infection Prevention and Control Committee, National Hospital Medical Advisory committee, FCT Chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Port Health Services, FCT Primary Healthcare Board and the Department of Public Health.

The Minister stressed that the FCT had good medical facilities, adding that outbreak could be an indictment on its healthcare system, especially if it is not contained and not effectively managed.

Bello, who expressed relief that there is no known case of the disease in the FCT, however called on the medical experts to be prepared to forestall any outbreak, be it Lassa Fever or the Coronavirus.

He also stressed the need for Area Council Chairmen to be actively involved in the planning and execution of prevention and treatment programmes.

He noted that possible outbreak would most likely impact more in the grassroots. The minister also urged the experts on concerted efforts for optimum results while calling on residents to take all necessary preventive measures to avoid contracting the deadly disease.

While urging health workers to follow all protection protocols to avoid getting infected, Malam Bello directed the release of additional operational vehicles for the use of the Department of Public Health for the purpose of Lassa Fever prevention campaign.

The Minister also directed that all stakeholders should hold regular meetings even when there are no visible threats.

This, he said, was to perfect plans for a foolproof mechanism to handle the breakout of any infectious disease. His words: “Even after this is over, the same group of stakeholders should be meeting regularly to see what has been done and what needs to be done so that we don’t really have to wait to have any situation like the one at hand before we start discussing what we need to do.”

On the preparedness of the FCT for any possible outbreak, the Director of Public Health, Dr. Josephine Okechukwu said so far, there was no reported case of Lassa fever in the FCT.

She however, assured that the authorities would remain vigilant. Okechukwu said that already, disease surveillance and monitoring officers have been trained and have received support to intensify surveillance in rural communities.

She added that the reference laboratory in Gaduwa remained fully functional to investigate blood samples for proper diagnosis.

She reiterated that Lassa Fever was a disease caused by poor hygiene and called on residents to ensure that their homes and environments were free of rats which are known to be carriers of the disease.

The Director strongly advised against self-medication in suspected cases, adding that anyone feeling unwell should immediately seek medical attention.

Speakers at the event stressed the need for all medical personnel to work together and be prepared for eventualities. They urged that treatment centres be put in place in event of possible outbreak.

The authorities further revealed that no fewer than 976,003 eligible children with potent oral polio vaccine would be immunized in the First Round 2020 National Immunization Plus Days (NIPDs) in the territory.

Minister of State, Aliyu, who stated this during an enlightenment campaign visit to Dutse Makaranta in Bwari Area Council, also stressed that the exercise was part of the strategies aimed at vaccinating children against poliomyelitis.

The Minster used the occasion to reveal that Nigeria will, in the next few months, achieve the Africa regional certification as a polio free nation.

She stressed that the FCT, which has been polio free for over six years, should not be seen as creating an environment for the transmission of the wild polo virus in the country.