2024: Tackling Nigeria’s new, recurrent epidemics

NIGERIA has faced several disease outbreaks over the past years, necessitating the need for the nation to improve its epidemic preparedness.

In 2023 alone, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reported recurrent outbreaks of some diseases, including cholera, Lassa fever, diphtheria, and dengue. 

The recurring outbreaks of these conditions have necessitated a comprehensive and proactive approach from tiers of government in the country, said experts who recommended what the government could do to contain the outbreaks. 

The experts who spoke with The ICIR bemoaned repeated outbreaks of diseases and the rise in cases of Lassa fever in the country.

The ICIR reports that in 2023, the NCDC announced at least one new disease outbreak -anthrax. 

On several occasions, the NCDC warned the public on the need for increased surveillance over rising cases of Lassa fever and other ailments.

In its December 18, 2023 report, the Centre noted that Nigeria might have recorded the highest number of Lassa fever cases, with 8,542 suspected cases, 1,170 confirmed cases, and 200 deaths across 28 states.

Meanwhile, as of December 24, the number of suspected Lassa fever cases stood at 8978, out of which 1227 cases were confirmed, and 216 deaths were reported across 28 states.

The confirmed cases reported so far in 2023 indicate a 16.3 per cent increase from those reported in 2022.

Similarly, diseases such as diphtheria and cholera ravaged some parts of the country, particularly in the first half of 2023.

The ICIR reported how some communities, particularly in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), battled with cholera due to the lack of proper WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene).

Although the NCDC has not released the data showing the total number of reported cases of diphtheria and cholera in 2023, information obtained by The ICIR from the last data released by the Centre on September 24, 2023, show there were 11,587 reported suspected cases of diphtheria, out of which 7,202 were confirmed from 105 local government areas (LGAs) in 18 states including the FCT.

Out of the 7,202 confirmed cases, Kano recorded the highest number, having confirmed 6,185 cases. In all, 453 persons from the confirmed cases died nationwide, giving a case fatality rate (CFR) of 6.3 per cent.

The NCDC conceded that the escalating rate of disease outbreaks stemmed from low vaccination.

Similarly, the country faced a similar challenge with cholera.

The fight against cholera, according to stakeholders, is still subpar, given the number of people who do not have access to proper WASH facilities and rely on unsafe water for daily sustenance. 

In October, The ICIR revealed how some communities in the FCT depended on unsafe water and engaged in open defecation. Experts decried this practice and said if Nigeria was serious about the fight against disease outbreaks, it must address WASH challenges.

As of October 1, 2023, a total of 3,276 suspected cholera cases, including 102 deaths, were reported across 27 states. 

Experts’ views, suggestions

Speaking on causes of epidemics and their recurrent nature, a public health expert, Hassan Dasola, a doctor, explained that inadequate legal frameworks for health security at both national and subnational levels, insufficient funding, and lack of proper monitoring and supervision were responsible for repeated disease outbreaks in the country.

“When you look at the recent outbreaks that we are having, take a look at COVID, Lassa, and anthrax, you see that they have something in common – they are diseases that are spread from animal to human, so we call them genetic diseases. 

“So when you look at it, you notice they are diseases that are being transferred from animal to human. And when you look at our health security, our legal framework that we have even at national and subnational levels, they do not really take those genetic diseases into consideration. How can it be prevented? What are the guidelines? What are the regulations that have been put in place? In terms of hunting, in terms of consumption of animals, in terms of animal health itself.

“There has to be a synergy between the Ministry of Health that takes care of human health and the Ministry of Agriculture that takes care of animal health in a way that their framework has some synergy because this is an ecosystem whereby we have interaction between animal and human,” she said.

Similarly, Adewumi Enoch, a public health physician and the founder of Quinta Health posited that inadequate health infrastructure, poor sanitation or lack of proper WASH facilities, low awareness, and inadequate vaccination coverage are among the major reasons Nigeria grappled with recurrent diseases.

“Gaps in immunisation programmes leave individuals susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases. They also contribute to disease outbreaks. A lack of public awareness about disease prevention and health practices can also hinder efforts to control diseases,” he added.

Setting Agenda

On how best to contain diseases, Enoch suggested that the government prioritise institutions and projects that directly address health concerns in the country.

According to him, Nigeria’s effectiveness in tackling disease outbreaks depends on a collaborative effort between the government and individuals, adding that the Federal Government must prioritise adequate healthcare policies, improved infrastructure, and robust public awareness campaigns. 

“The government plays a pivotal role in establishing and implementing health policies, ensuring sufficient resources for healthcare, and strengthening disease surveillance. 

“Similarly, individuals contribute by adhering to health guidelines, participating in immunisation programmes, and promoting community health. A harmonised approach, addressing both systemic issues and individual responsibilities, is crucial for successfully mitigating the menace of disease outbreaks in Nigeria,” he said.






     

     

    He also advised that the government strengthen health infrastructure by investing in and improving healthcare facilities, ensuring accessibility and quality services across the country.

    He also emphasised the need to improve sanitation practices, promote immunisation, conduct nationwide health education campaigns to raise awareness about disease prevention, and advance its surveillance system.

    Also, Dasola said the Federal Government showed more commitment to health than state governments. She urged the states to take ownership and invest more in healthcare.

    She emphasised the need for government to implement policies that address healthcare, sanitation, and disease prevention to guarantee a healthier Nigeria.

     

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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