Towards making Nigeria Lassa fever-free

Recently, there was an outbreak of Lassa fever in some states, response team from the Federal Ministry of Environment was deployed to contain the disease.

The team carried out Rodent control activities (deratization), advocacy and sensitisation, with stakeholders’ participation for sustainability of efforts.

At the end of the activities in Ondo and Ebonyi states, no fewer than 194 dead rats were recovered and buried, with 26 of them being `Mastomys’, the specie which carried the Lassa fever virus.

Prior to that, the deratization process was done by baiting the rats using rodenticides in the communities, before achieving the results.

As revealed by Mr Aghogho Gbetsere, Chief Environmental Health Officer, with the Federal Ministry of Environment, some cultural practices like food processing activities of spreading `Garri and Cassava’ on bare floor may be a big factor spreading Lassa fever in the communities.

According to him, major takeaways from the exercise is the need for advocacy and sensitisation on hygiene promotion and the need for state and local governments to take ownership of Environment Health, so as to halt spread of Lassa fever.

According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), five states of Ondo, Edo, Ebonyi, Bauchi and Taraba were Lassa fever-endemic.

Evidently, Oba of Ijebu Owo in Ondo state, Oba Kofoworola Ojomo, said for interventions to be sustainable, the old practice of environmental health officers carrying out sanitary inspections should be resuscitated.

“The EHOs use to be feared and respected back then, not that they carried gun or so, but they were effective in hygiene promotion.

“All these sicknesses and diseases were not experienced then, after a while, they became toothless bulldogs, if only the old sanitary practice can be reintroduced, it will solve all these health issues’’.

Recognising the crucial role that deratization process plays in public health safety, the World Health Organization (WHO) led interventions through a stakeholders’ review workshop to formally ratify a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Rodent Control in the country.

Major conversations emanating from the meeting included the need for a `One Health Approach’ for environmental intervention and surveillance for Lassa fever response in the country.

The National Consultant, Public Health & Environment, WHO, Dr Edwin Isotu-Edeh, representing the WHO Country Representative, Dr Walter Mulombo, said since the first Lassa fever outbreak in 2018, stakeholders saw the need to synergise to halt the spread.

He said it was worrisome that Nigeria still battled with preventable diseases such as Lassa fever, saying the meeting was a right step in the right direction.

According to him, it is critical for Standard Operating Procedure to be standardised, saying activities on rodent control in rivers state should be uniformed as country.

In her opinion, Chioma Dan-Nwafor, Lassa Fever Incident Manager, NCDC, said it was impressive to see commitment from all stakeholders in the fight to halt Lassa fever deaths in the country.

According to her, Nigeria has the largest Lassa fever burden in the country, saying so far, no fewer than 10 doctors have died within a year.

She said with collaboration from all stakeholders, especially from the federal ministry of environment in Lassa fever emergency operations centre, this has helped coordination.

“The NCDC will like to commend the ministry of environment for taking the lead in rodent control, this response has seen progress.

“We are hopeful that with the finalisation of the Standard Operating Procedure will give the needed scientific-based response for push towards reducing Lassa fever deaths in the country’’.

Dan-Nwafor however pledged the commitment of NCDC towards ending Lassa fever deaths and enhancing public health of all Nigerians.

In addition, Professor Godson Ana, Dean, Faculty of Public Health, University of Ibadan, urged Nigerian Government to embrace the `One Health Approach’ to control Lassa fever outbreak and promote public health of the citizens.

According to him, the Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria with 136 deaths reported in 23 states and 92 LGAs across the country, as at 10 April 2022, totaling 715 confirmed cases.

“The one health approach encourages synergy across different professional groups and expertise.

“For Lassa fever control and response, there are components that require the inputs of Environmental Health Officers, Clinicians in the health sector and in the Agriculture sector, because the rats are migrating from the bushes, farmlands undergoing land preparation into dwellings, residential areas, office spaces, markets etc.

“So every sector has a role to play, the essence of trying to adopt this strategy is to ensure the synergy so that there will be free flow of information’’.

Additionally, Ana said the role of awareness creation cannot be over-emphasised in control and preventing Lassa fever in the country, saying this critical.

“When I mentioned awareness, it is not like it is increasing, some level of momentum has been gathered with the role that NCDC is playing. I believe that much more is desired.

“Awareness creation should increase, for example, during the days of Ebola, the media played a very critical role in information dissemination likewise the era of Covid-19’’.

Nevertheless, experts say Government must invest in Environmental Health and preventive measures to control Lassa fever outbreak in the country.

The experts call on Nigerians living in Lassa fever-endemic communities, to apply rodenticides between October and December to bait rats, seal all opened holes and entrances, and practice food safety at all times.

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