Preventing epidemic diseases in Nigeria

Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu


*NCDC begins media advocacy, capacity building to raise awareness
*Nipah virus spreads in India, has killed 99 per cent of victims so far

A recent study has shown that infectious diseases account for approximately 22 per cent of deaths from all causes in the Nigeria.According to World Health Organisation (WHO), effective public health surveillance is critical for the early detection and prevention of epidemics, to know existing communicable diseases, especially those with high epidemic potential.

Consequently, the WHO ensures international coordination of epidemic response, particularly for diseases of international public health importance to countries that lack the capacity to handle the scourge.

In a bid to curtail epidemic diseases from ravaging the country, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has engaged the media on one day capacity building to expand the knowledge and awareness on the ailments.

NCDC is Nigeria’s national public health institute with the mandate to provide a healthier and safer Nigeria through the prevention and control of diseases of public health importance. It is focused on protecting the health of Nigerians through evidence based prevention, integrated disease surveillance and response activities, using a one-health approach, guided by research and led by a skilled workforce.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO), NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, at the media workshop said the essence of the workshop is to provide information and improve the consciousness of the media on epidemic prone diseases as well as equip them with skills to disseminate information, create awareness and enhance the quality of their reports.He said it is paramount to expand the network of journalists who specialise in writing and broadcasting authoritatively on the epidemic prone diseases and also get feedback from participants.

“We are strengthening our engagement with you. We want to create relationship between NCDC and your various media so you can have access to us personally to help you develop stories and gain perspectives from our side,” he said.The NCDC boss stated that improvement of technology would go a long way stressing the issue of funding, “The big issue is support for logistics. To be honest, even if I recognise the importance of this meeting last year, I could not have arranged this meeting because I do not have the resources. The fact that we are here now is that over the last year we built enough confidence both internally and externally with some donors which increased the fund available.”

He continued: “In my first year, my priority is to move NCDC from where I found it to another level. This is possible because we built some credibility. We are now bringing in some resources to support the work we do.”

Meanwhile, a rare, brain-damaging virus that experts consider a possible epidemic threat has broken out in the state of Kerala, India, for the first time, infecting at least 18 people and killing 17 of them, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).The Nipah virus naturally resides in fruit bats across South and Southeast Asia, and can spread to humans through contact with the animals’ bodily fluids. There is no vaccine and no cure.

The WHO as a high priority for research lists the virus. Current treatment measures are insufficient, according to Dr. Stuart Nichol, the head of the viral special pathogens branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There’s a market failure for protecting people from this,” said Dr. Steve Luby, an epidemiologist at Stanford University. “It’s not like treating baldness or breast cancer, where wealthy people will pay for your product. There’s no big customer here, no incentive, until it escalates.”

If the virus were to spread outside India, it would likely appear first in Dubai, where many Indians work, according to an analysis of flight patterns conducted by the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit research group.

“The goal of mapping scenarios out is not to create panic. It’s to get countries ready,” said Dr. Peter Daszak, the president of the alliance. “This virus will get better and better at spreading — that’s what we’re up against. We need to be ahead of the curve.”The Nipah infection produces flulike symptoms, including fevers, body aches and vomiting, which often progress to acute respiratory syndrome and encephalitis, or brain inflammation. Some survivors show persistent neurological effects, including personality changes.

The virus was first identified during an outbreak in 1998 among pig farmers in Malaysia, where it killed over 100 people and led to the slaughtering of more than one million pigs. Cases now appear almost annually in Bangladesh.The current outbreak likely began when people drew water from a bat-infested well, according to the India’s National Centre for Disease Control, which is leading the investigation.

The WHO has not recommended any travel or trade restrictions for the region.The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has announced an award of up to $25 million to Profectus BioSciences and Emergent BioSolutions to develop a vaccine again Nipah virus. The project is expected to take at least five years.

Similarly, Dr. Ejike Oji emphasised the need for advocacy in capacity building and role of media in fight against epidemic prone diseases.He explained that advocacy is simply the process of influencing people to create change, educating people about a need and mobilizing them to meet it, citing that “effective advocacy is needed to convince decision makers that we must stop epidemics that kill and maim our people.”

Oji added: “It is important to create awareness for research into the epidemics in Nigeria, recruiting other stakeholders to join the fight by developing key messages, funding of the actions, establishing a clear long-term goal and objectives. When defining your goal and objectives, focus on the immediate opportunities and obstacles considering the overall environment include potential opportunity barriers, levels of public understanding and support for change.”

He explained that advocacy could be structured to work accordingly by identifying the opportunities, obstacles and choosing the most effective route forward so as to achieve objectives. He stated that thousands of voices speaking independently can be ignored or dismissed, but by working together to deliver a message with one voice can make a real difference on epidemic prone diseases prevention and control.

Oji continued: “Working with the media is always a vital element of successful education and advocacy because it is cost-effective, a powerful way of communicating messages to a target audience and advocates, while from advocacy perspective media coverage can raise awareness and inform the public, persuading and motivating people; can add credibility to your message

Also, Head, Risk Communications at NCDC, Dr. Olufemi Ayoola, in his remarks identified risk communication as a science-based approach for communicating effectively in situations of high stress, high concern or controversy.He stated that effective communication of a message with specific instructions and alternatives regarding a public health or environmental risk to a community can lead to successful management of a risk situation.

Ayoola said it is important to educate the public about risks, risk analysis, and risk management so as to inform the public about specific risks and actions that would be or, are being taken to alleviate them, to encourage personal risk reduction measures, to improve understanding of public values and concerns and to increase mutual trust and credibility between the government, its development partners, and the public.

He added: “A good risk communication, improves decision-making, it explains the probability and the predictability of the risk impact, it deals with fears and uncertainties, It creates an avenue where uncertainties can be addressed and questions answered and It promotes compliance with treatment and required behaviour for preventive actions.”

Lending his own voice to the course, Former Editor-In-Chief, News Agency of Nigeria, Segun Aribike, said: “As health reporters in casting headline, we should not put fear in the citizenry such that it leads them to do stupid things.” Aribike urged the media to cast great headlines and avoid panic and confusing headlines that may lead the readers into making the wrong decisions or taking the wrong actions.

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Chikwe IhekweazuNCDC
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