By Ndidi Chukwu
The recent outbreak of Lassa fever obviously exposed further the poor health care system in Nigeria. It specifically told the world that Nigeria’s disease surveillance and control is still backwards and exposed the inefficiency of the nation’s Primary Health Care system.
Above all the Lassa fever outbreak which seems to have gotten out of hand is also sending the signal that Nigeria managed to contain Ebola not because all human and financial resources were made available.
The emergency meeting by the Federal Ministry of Health called for with the National Council on Health (NCH) , the highest advisory body on health in Nigeria was convened by the Honourable Minister of Health, Professor Issac Adewole to lay the foundation for a Multi-Sectoral Response to the Lassa Fever outbreak as a matter of urgency was held at the Rotunda Hall, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building, Abuja, FCT on the 19th of January, 2016. The NCH comprises of the State Commissioners for Health of the 36 States, the Secretary of Health & Human Services Secretariat FCT, with the Honourable Minister of Health as Chairman of the Council.
The specific objectives of the emergency meeting was presented to the Council by the Honourable Minister of State for Health include the need to facilitate discussion on the control of the on-going Lassa fever outbreak, development of strategies for the prevention and management of outbreaks, operationalisation of integrated management of outbreaks and emergencies at the Federal, State and LGA levels; as well as inauguration of the Lassa fever eradication committee.
During the meeting, the health minister made a presentation titled. “Laying the Foundation for a Multi-Sectoral Response to Lassa Fever”. The presentation elucidated the Multi-Sectoral Response Strategy for the control of Lassa Fever and other similar diseases. He called on all the States to strengthen their surveillance systems, report all cases and collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Health in order to successful implementation of the strategy.
Another presentation was mad by the National Coordinator/CEO, NCDC Prof. Abdulsalami Nasidi, on Epidemiological Situation of the current Lassa Fever Outbreak in Nigeria including available Response Infrastructure/Resource requirements gave updates from Lassa fever affected states who detailed the progression of the outbreak(s) in their states and current efforts to contain and prevent further spread of the disease and reassure affected Communities; as well as updates from CMDs/MDs of Federal Tertiary Health Institutions located within the affected States on their response and high index of suspicion towards all cases coming to their institutions, their management of confirmed cases, and measures being implemented to prevent nocosomial spread within their facilities as well as their community outreach efforts
The emergency session with the NCH on Lassa fever outbreak is similar to the meeting the country held when the first index case of Ebola was reported, it could be recalled that, the night long meeting in September 2014 had all state Governors making promises to boost its disease surveillance and control system then however, many of those pledges were not fulfilled and thus, the seemingly uncontrollable Lassa fever deaths while the then administration made financial commitments for construction of quarantine centres and ambulance systems available in states. There were alleged reports that some of those funds were not accounted for.
The efforts of the Federal Ministry of Health, its Agencies and Parastatals under the leadership of the Honourable Minister of Health as well as the efforts of all States including non-affected States who are actively strengthening their surveillance systems, awareness and health programme campaigns were recognized . But what is lacking is indebt feedback from the states on disease control and emergency response after the Ebola experience in Nigeria.
The NCH participants who said Ebola, was different from Lassa Fever which they said is treatable if detected early and there are adequate treatment centres spread across the country added that, they were optimistic that the virus would be contained reassured the Public on the adequacy of the response to the outbreak and urged the Public, Community and Religious leaders to cooperate with the Health Agencies in their States to ensure prompt reporting of any suspected case.
A total of 418 delegates participated including. Ministry, Departments and Agencies of the Federal and state Ministries of Health, Health Institutions, representatives of key Federal Ministries such as Agriculture, Education, Environment and Information, Development Partner, Higher Commissioner of Canada, Innovative Vaccines, as well as delegates from Health Regulatory Bodies, Professional associations, the Tri-Services of the Nigerian Military and Para-Military Medical Corps.