Except Nigeria has a strong disease surveillance system in place, plus a robust trained medical personnel for emergency preparedness, many Nigerians will continue to die during any form of disease outbreak in the country.
Lack of diagnostic facilities and weak surveillance system, have been identified as major obstacles to containment efforts of major disease outbreaks in
Nigeria as samples had to be sent abroad for confirmation, owing to inadequate local capacity to carry out the tests.
The lengthy process involved in establishing the diagnosis often complicates or delays response strategies, thereby, leading to avoidable deaths.
This unpreparedness no doubt, hinders rapid and early confirmation as well rapid response to disease during outbreaks.
Though Nigeria defeated Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in 2014 after recording nine deaths and over 19 cases, recent epidemic disease outbreaks in the country such as Lassa fever, Monkey Pox, Cerebro Spinal Meningitis and the number of deaths recorded, clearly showed that the country was still not ready for emergency response to disease outbreaks.
Between December 2016 and June 2017, meningitis disease killed about 1,166 people in 27 states of the federation according to Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Within the same period, more than 500 persons had contracted Lassa fever in about 17 states, and 104 died.
Worried about the situation, a Public Health Physician and Former Chief Medical Director (CMD), Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Prof Akin Osibogun, has called for a national plan of action and political commitment that will adequately prepare the country for any form of disease outbreak.
“We do not have a national plan of action yet so we can be well prepared for any form of disease outbreak” he said.
Osibogun expressed displeasure that despite the confusion and panic witnessed in the country in 2014 during the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak, Nigeria was still unprepared should the disease resurface in the country.
His words: “I will say no, Nigeria is still not prepared if Ebola Virus Disease resurfaces in the country. In 2014, the Federal Government promised to establish six functional laboratories but nothing of such is yet to be set up”.
Osibogun disclosed this in a lecture entitled: “Emergency Response to Disease Outbreaks: The Way Forward in Nigeria” delivered at the 8th Annual Symposium of the Health Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HEWAN), held in Lagos recently.
Lamenting lack of proper emergency response to disease outbreak in the country, Osibogun revealed that no fewer than 1,000 Nigerians die annually as a result of disease epidemics.
According to him, the deaths were due to the leadership’s lack of political will and preparedness to combat disease epidemics in the country.
To him, “Yes, the government has done well with the establishment of the National Centre for Disease Control ( NCDC) but there is yet to be a law in place to back up that centre and strengthen its operations”.
Osibogun said that it was far cheaper to be prepared than to combat disease outbreaks.
He said that a strong health system was better and will be able to prevent disease epidemics and respond faster to save lives.
“’Political commitment is highly required to make adequate funds available to provide needed infrastructure such as laboratories for prompt diagnosis, researches, treatment centres and medical equipment.
”There should be constant training and retraining of medical personnel for emergency preparedness.
“There must be strong collaboration between the Federal and State governments and other health agencies on how to contain outbreaks.
“’So, as a nation we need to anticipate epidemics and be well prepared via surveillance system, investigation control measures, implementation of prevention measures as well as continuous monitoring”, he explained.
Also speaking, Hon. Olusegun Olulade, Chairman, House Committee on Health, Lagos State House of Assembly said that the issue of health was a collective project that should not be left alone in the hands of government.
“Without good health, there will be no meaningful life; that is why health should be a collective project for both the government and the people”, he said.
In his address, Dr Emmanuel Enabulele, Chairman, HEWAN Board of Trustees, said that the symposium was to highlight major health issues in the country such as epidemics.
Enabulele urged journalists to ensure constant and adequate reportage of health issues to make the government more proactive and enlighten the people.