The recent disclosure that 101 persons have so far died from Lassa fever virus attack is to say the least, heart-rending.
Statistics reeled reluctantly reeled out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease, NCDC indicated that the reported cases of the disease-both confirmed and suspected- stood at 175 with a total of 101 deaths since August, 2015 when the first outbreak occurred. No fewer than 19 states including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, are currently following up contacts or have suspected cases with laboratory results pending or already confirmed.
Though the NCDC assured that the federal government is on top of the situation, it is rather worrisome that instead of abating, the virus has spread with steady rapidity. Instructively, the outbreak of Lassa fever was only announced in January, five months after the first case of the disease was discovered.
Last year, according to the NCDC, 12 persons in the country died out of the 375 infected, a figure that was a sharp reduction from the 112 deaths out of the 1,723 cases recorded in 2012.
Lassa, a fever is named after a town in Borno where it was supposedly first discovered in 1969, is a viral pathogen and a member belonging to Arenavirridae virus family. According to medical scientists, the virus is animal-borne and is found in the same family with Ebola virus which causes Ebola Fever Disease, EFD, and possesses similar characteristics especially in their feverish attacks on their victims.
The virus is transmittable from animal such as rodents especially multimammate mice (mastomys natalensis) which is believed to be common in equatorial Africa with sizeable number of them inhabiting residential areas and are eaten as a delicacy in some areas across West Africa.
It has incubation period between five and 21 days, following which noticeable symptoms will appear 10 days after infection with repeated vomiting, malaise, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, facial swelling, back and chest pain, bleeding of the eyes, noise and gums, abdominal disorder, among other brain related issues to including encephalitis and hearing loss as common symptoms associated with Lassa fever.
As an acute hemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever can be transmitted through contact with an infected rodent or contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, including mother-to-child transmission and consumption of infected food items.
Considering that the number of Lassa fever infections in West Africa every year is put at between 100,000 to 300,000, with about 5,000 deaths, according to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, we are concerned that the Federal Government seems to have applied kid gloves in the fight against the deadly virus.
No doubt, aggressive public enlightenment was the main weapon deployed by the federal government against the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease. Though the virus was rampant in West Africa, Nigeria became the first of the West African countries to contain the deadly Ebola outbreak by employing painstaking, resilience and resourceful awareness campaigns that kept the public abreast with widespread healthy steps necessary to avoid the virus.
This is clearly lacking both in spirit, zest, comportment, political will and national fervour. Neither the federal ministries of health and information and National Orientation nor other machinery of state have been dutiful in sensitising the public on the devastating nature of the Lassa fever virus.
Unlike during Ebola when everyone became accustomed to hand washing and other health- boosting campaigns, nothing of the sort has been forthcoming in respect of Lassa fever.
We believe having fought the Ebola virus gallantly and with dispatch, if the federal government deploys all machinery at its disposal just as it was done in the fight against Ebola, the current outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria, which has already claimed 101 lives, with many cases pending in more than 20 states of the federation, can equally be contained.
We strongly hold the view that the public deserves more than the superficial and often unco-ordinated and sparingly awareness campaigns by agencies of government on the Lassa fever. Rather than keep the public alert and armed to fight the virus, there seems to be doldrums in the drive to inform and stimulate public awareness of the danger that it poses to public health.
We are of the view that both the Ministry of Information and National Orientation and the Federal Ministry of Health in conjunction with other agencies and their counterparts in the states should be proactive in the quest to contain the virus. This can be done through consistent health education and target-driven awareness campaigns, which will ultimately prevent a containable outbreak from turning into an epidemic.
We call on the federal government to stop forthwith lip service in the fight against Lassa fever, re-appraise its focus as was done with Ebola and ginger its enlightenment machinery, to educate and mobilize the general public the deadly virus and ensure a healthy nation. After all, health, they say is wealth.