By Gabriel Olawale
HEALTH experts in Nigeria have said that the recurrent Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria is akin to a national embarrassment and that it will be no exagerration to describe it as a national tragedy. Expressing dissatisfaction, the Chairman, Lassa Fever Control Committee in Nigeria, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, who is President of the Nigeria Academic of Science, NAS, observed that Lassa fever that has been claiming lives over the past 47 years without concrete strategies to bring it under control, can only be referred to as a continuous national tragedy.
Tomori, who spoke on Monday at a symposium on Lassa fever organised by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, Yaba, Lagos, said the break down in disease surveillance did not make the country notice that Lassa fever has consistently brought sorrow, pains and agony to several homes.
“If you are not hearing of new cases, it is not that the disease is not occurring, but because our disease surveillance is not up to par. “We deceive ourselves that it’s a seasonal disease, but the fact remains that it occurs throughout the year. At least three people are diagnosed of Lassa fever daily somewhere in the country.”
Further, Tomori said: “We have little value for life, until more than 100 people die, it is not an emergency, For many years Lassa fever has been with us but we don’t take it serious. In other parts of the world, when a single person dies of a disease, it is a national emergency. For how long are we going to continue to call tragedy an embarrassment?
“We abandon disease surveillance and control activities; there was a time people worked together, the laboratories at Ibadan, the Ministry of Health, NIMR, joined forces to protect the country. In the 60’s to 80’s at Ibadan, we produced every reagent we needed in the country. We did not depend on importation. But now we are lazy and everybody wants to make money from importation.”
In his explanation, he said six to seven laboratories in the country cannot give proper results. “This is due to lack of support. The only few that function in the country have the support of partner agencies and backing from abroad,” he noted.
On his part, President, Bioresources Development Group, Prof. Maurice Iwu, said that the Lassa fever issue was more than an embarras- sment because the country has the personnel required,knowledge of the Lassa fever and how to prevent it, but the disease still claims lives. Iwu said unless the country adopts the approach used during the Ebola outbreak, many more people would fall victim.
“As long as Lassa fever is anywhere in the country, as long as we have restaurants that don’t keep good hygiene, as long as we have houses that are co-infested with rat and horse, as long as we have dirty environment, we are all vulnerable.
“The only thing we can do is keep track of the virus, and from time to time do research. Our universities should make sure that 80 percent of their research is localized to treat our own diseases, issues and viruses we live with,” he said.
In his contribution, the Director Gen-eral, NIMR, Prof. In-nocent Ujah, said the national response to the 47-year-old epidemic in Nigeria has remained largely poor and there appears to be no strategic plan to allocate fund for Lassa and other viral Haemorrhagic fevers research, surveillance and appropriation response.
Ujah mentioned lack of manpower and well equipped laboratories as part of challenges hindering the institution from recording success. “Public health education and awareness are usually far in between and there are no comprehensive preventive measures to contain the disease.
“NIMR has only one medical virologist and the laboratories are not well equipped for Lassa fever and other Haemorrhagic fever research,” he remarked.