The Senate yesterday directed that the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, should appear before the members to brief them on the outbreak of Lassa fever in 10 States of the federation.
This followed a motion by Senator Olanrewaju Tejuoso (APC-Ogun Central), which was co-sponsored by five other senators.
Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever caused by Lassa virus. The Senate, just back from Christmas and New Year holidays, urged the Federal Government, health agencies and non-governmental organisations to carry out aggressive sensitisation in affected states.
It also suggested that the awareness on preventive measures of the scourge should be created at markets, restaurants, schools and other public places. While condoling with families that had lost persons to the disease, the lawmakers advised Nigerians to adhere to rules of personal hygiene as well as report cases of persistent high fever to the nearest health centre.
Tejuoso, while moving the motion, expressed concern that since a similar outbreak in 2014, which claimed 20 lives, nothing had been done to check further outbreak of the disease. He claimed that the fever had frequently infected people in Africa and resulted in 300,000 to 500,000 cases annually, and no fewer than 5,000 deaths each year.
He said that in spite of “this awareness, health and corporate agencies in Nigeria, emphasise on awareness creation only after new cases appears.’’ The legislator expressed concern that if nothing urgent was done to curtail further outbreak and spread of the disease, it would reach a magnitude where it could be declared a national emergency.
President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, called on the Federal Ministry of Health to provide adequate fund for the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). He said that it was expedient for the centre to be adequately funded to enable it function effectively in curtailing the spread and further outbreak of the disease.
He also called on the Senate Committee on Health to interface with the ministry in ensuring that the disease was properly managed.
“The most important issue is that the Committee on Health should do its oversight by engaging with the Minister of Health on how far the ministry has gone in tackling the problem,’’ he said. A minute silence was, thereafter, observed for those who had lost their lives to the disease.
Our correspondent reports that states currently affected by the outbreak of the disease are Taraba, Rivers, Bauchi, Nassarawa, Niger, Kano, Edo, Plateau, Gombe and Oyo. Meanwhile, The Federal Government says Lassa fever has claimed 41 lives from 93 reported cases in 10 states of the country.
It would be recalled that the Federal Government on Friday put the death toll at 40 out of 86 reported cases of Lassa fever outbreak in same 10 states. The number of the suspected cases also rose from 86 last week to 93.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, confirmed this in Abuja yesterday at a joint ministerial news conference on the update of the outbreak of the disease.
However, Adewole said there were no new confirmed cases or death in the last 48 hours. He did not disclose the state from which the additional life was lost.
“In the last 48 hours the government raised a four-man expert committee, chaired by Prof. Michael Asuzu, to visit Kano, Niger and Bauchi, the three most endemic states. “The committee will embark on a fact finding mission, assess the current situation, document response experiences, identify gaps and proffer recommendations on how to prevent future occurrences,’’ he said.
The minister assured the public that the task of the committee was not to apportion blame but rather to document lessons learnt for better planning of an affective responsive. According to Adewole, part of the long term response is to establish an inter-ministerial committee to deliver a final blow on Lassa fever and other related diseases.
The committee comprised the ministers of Education, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Environment, Information and Culture as well as Health. Adewole advised communities to improve on their hygiene, including food hygiene and food protection practices.
He also urged the public to avoid contact with rodents and rats as well as food contaminated with rat’s secretions and excretions.“Avoid drying food in the open and along roadsides, it is also important to cover all foods to prevent rodents contamination,’’ he said.
The minister said affected states have been advised to intensify awareness creation on the signs and symptoms of the disease. According to him, the affected states are Bauchi, Nasarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Plateau, Gombe and Oyo.
“The public is hereby assured that government and other stakeholders are working tirelessly to address the outbreak and bring it to timely end,’’ said the minister. He said the ministry had ordered for the immediate release of adequate quantities of “ribavirin’’, the specific antiviral drug for Lassa fever, to the affected states for prompt treatment of cases.
Adewole said Nigeria has the capability to diagnose Lassa fever, adding that “all the cases reported so far were confirmed by our laboratories’’. The first case of the current outbreak was reported from Bauchi in November 2015.