How Nigeria can ‘eradicate’ Lassa fever, by Tomori



Nigeria should forget any plan to eradicate Lassa fever, but should rather concentrate efforts on controlling the virus, President of Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), Prof Oyewale Tomori said.

He also wants Nigeria to prepare for the possibility that the ‘virulent’ Zika could be imported into Nigeria through mosquitoes,

He told The Guardian: “Zika is already in the country. Zika virus was first isolated in Nigeria in 1954 by workers at the West African Medical Research Council laboratory in Yaba. One virus isolate, each was made from three cases of people presenting with jaundice. Studies in the 1970s through the 80s further confirmed the presence of Zika virus in Nigeria, through virus isolations and antibody studies in man. So you do not import what already exists in your country, but I forgot we are in Nigeria where as you know we will spend foreign exchange to import coal to Enugu!

“Let me also say that Zika is not the first virus to present as a mild febrile infection in the African region and then become a monster outside the region. We have had examples with viruses like West Nile, and Chikungunya, which are associated with mild infections in many parts of Africa only to get to other regions and cause severe havoc. Reasons adduced for such behavior, include mutation of the virus in new hosts, and where it is mild, presence of other related viruses circulating in the region…For example, we have the following viruses in Nigeria. Yellow fever, West Nile, Zika, Dengue, Wesselsbro, all belong to the same family and previous infection with one could reduce the severity of another one in the future.

“Therefore, as we have always advised in vain, reduce the number of breeding sites of mosquitoes, protect yourself from mosquito bites. We must clean up our clogged gutters where pools of water become the breeding factories for mosquitoes. Let us be frank, we are a thoroughly dirty nation, no matter which part of Nigeria you are, dirtiness seems to be one common national asset we take pride in. The monthly environmental sanitation exercise is futile. We need to develop the habit of daily cleaning of our surroundings and daily clearing of our refuse. Until people learn not to throw refuse all over the place, we will remain a filthy and foul country.”

Tomori asked Nigeria to stop thinking of eradicating Lassa fever, but rather focus energies on control.

On Lassa fever, he stressed: “The best we can do is control, not eradicate Lassa from the country. Unlike polio and small pox which can be eradicated because both are transmitted man-to-man, without an intermediate host or a vector, diseases like Lassa, Ebola, Malaria and Yellow fever cannot be eradicated because they each have different natural hosts and vectors transmitting the diseases.

“The natural host of Yellow fever is the monkey species found in the bush, and different species of mosquitoes transmit the disease to man. Malaria is a disease of man spread by mosquitoes, as we have with Zika. Lassa and Ebola have their respective natural hosts- rodents and bats. Since we are not likely to eradicate all the mosquitoes, rodents, rats, and bats in the world, so can we not eradicate these diseases? The best we can do is to control the diseases by limiting contact between the natural hosts and protecting the humans through the use of vaccines. The control of malaria and yellow fever is achieved by a combination of mosquito control, vaccination, reducing breeding sites of mosquitoes and protecting man from mosquito bites through the use of nets or insect repellants. Our best bet for Lassa fever control in Nigeria will involve reducing the level of filth in our cities and villages, protecting our raw food from contamination by rodent droppings – urine and feces, improving our lab diagnosis services, increasing our level of community awareness of the disease, and instituting infection control practices in our health facilities.

He alluded to what he described as the lowering of the guard soon after the Ebola success.

“We dismantled the structures we used in combatting the Ebola scourge. Most of the plans prepared for action at national and state levels were not implemented, though we were told N1.9 billion was budgeted. Our lack of seriousness and short memory were aptly demonstrated when our “volunteers” returned from Liberia/Sierra Leone, not one was placed in quarantine as required.

It was either those in charge did not consider it important to quarantine the “volunteers” or there was no fund available to keep them in quarantine for the stipulated 21 days. One would have thought that funds for such an important exercise would have been made available from the 1.9 billion naira Ebola fund,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria (Lagos State Chapter), Dr. Doyin Odubanjo, has described as poor the preparation of states to managing public health emergencies.

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