THE current Monkey pox outbreak has again exposed Nigerians to the dangers of preventable and treatable diseases. Lassa fever, Cerebrospinal Meningitis, CSM and Cholera are just a few of the emergency epidemic outbreaks the country has so far witnessed this year.
On September 22, 2017, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, received a report of a suspected Monkey pox virus disease from the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, NDUTH, Okolobiri, Bayelsa State. In less than a month, the Monkey pox affected 43 people in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ekiti, Lagos, Enugu, Nasarawa, Rivers, and FCT.
For 24 days, the disease carried the tag of “suspected” until the Federal Government obtained laboratory evidence from the World Health Organisation, WHO, Regional Laboratory in Dakar, Senegal, to confirm three of the cases in Bayelsa State. The latest outbreak is the third in Nigeria’s history, with previous episodes in 1971 and 1978 according to the WHO.
Monkey pox is a rare disease caused by infection with the Monkey pox virus which belongs to the same family of viruses that cause small pox. African rodent species are believed to be the natural reservoirs and play a role in transmission. The virus can cause an illness with symptoms of a generalised vesicular skin rash, fever and painful jaw swelling. In previous outbreaks, it led to death in at least one in 10 people.
With no available protective vaccine, no specific treatment and no cure, there is the need to raise awareness about the risk factors of monkey pox and employ public education about the measures that must be taken to reduce exposure to the virus. Transmission is in two modes – animal to human and human to human. Prevention of contact with natural hosts of the virus – monkeys, rodents, rats, squirrels and others, helps break transmission from animal to human. Avoidance of contact with the body fluids and personal items of infected persons prevents human-human transmission.
The poor state of our national health services remains worrisome and the spread, in recent times, of infectious diseases amplifies the gaps in the nation’s emergency preparedness plan. The latest outbreak expresses the need to establish and equip public health laboratories, human vaccine laboratories and integrated surveillance systems.
It also showcases the need to employ effective and sustainable approaches in curtailing disease epidemics and calls for commitment to strengthen the health system to a level of sustainability and effectiveness.
It is unacceptable that Nigeria lacks the facilities to diagnose and confirm most infectious outbreaks. Now is the time to revive and equip the national laboratory facilities to regain the lost glory that it once had in the quick confirmation of many of these diseases.