• Country still vulnerable to Ebola, Lassa fever, others
• Experts want govt to revamp diseases’ surveillance system
Concerned that Nigeria especially Lagos State is still vulnerable to emerging epidemics such as the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), Lassa fever, Zika virus and others, medical experts have warned that government at all levels must urgently improve surveillance systems to prevent occurrence.
Also, in a bid to take precaution on infectious diseases especially the Ebola outbreak, which was well handled by experts in Nigeria in 2014, the Lagos State Government Ministry of Health organised the second African Conference on ‘Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity.’
The theme of the conference was “Strengthening African Health System-Building Resilience and Capacity to Tackle Epidemic Threats: Bio-security and Infrastructure in The Aftermath of Ebola Outbreak.”
Consultant Public Health Physician/Epidemiologist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos (CMUL)/Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Idi Araba, Prof. Akin Osibogun, said that the whole idea was built on the experiences of the Ebola outbreak of 2014. “As we know, epidemic will always occur but what is most important for us as a people is to be prepared to enable us mitigate the effects of any emergent epidemic,” he said.
Osibogun, who is also the immediate past Chief Medical Director (CMD) of LUTH, said that Ebola has been around Africa for over 50 years. It has been coming and going in Congo until it spread to other Africa countries and wrecked havoc on human lives. Though, it has come and gone but proactive measures should be taken to avert any future occurrence.
‘‘This conference enabled experts from different countries exchange ideas on how to detect epidemic, how to develop our capacity for rapid diagnosis, how we can develop our capacity for rapid case detection and contact tracing, disease surveillance, biosecurity and biosafety, detecting biological trace, vaccine strategy and preventive measures, Osibogun added.
Osibogun is also the Chairman of the Local Organising Committee (LOC).
Chief responsibility officer of Mothergold Limited and a facilitator for the event, Dr. Adeshina Ayodele Fagbenro, said: “Ebola virus got us unaware. We should not fall into the habit of relaxing because we managed the problem. Subsequently after the Ebola virus, there were an exercise in trying to manage it, issues were raised on how to manage blood, medical facilities, health service delivery and how to obtain emerging diseases.”
Fagbenro stressed: “You will recall that after the Ebola virus, we had Lassa fever. The whole idea is to be more proactive, to build a society that will be more resilient where all human community can react quickly to anything that emerges. When Ebola came, people avoided shaking hands and touching things. It also had damaging effect on the economy because people refused to purchase certain things. People catch disease, go elsewhere and spreads it.”
‘‘We have to ensure that our health system can work effectively and avert things. The greatest resource we have is not oil but the human being and anything that can diminish the human being or threaten life must be tackled because it is an issue of national security. Health matters should be taken seriously and not lightly in any form,’’ Fagbenro advised.
Also, the Chairman of the Lassa fever Control Committee, Prof. Wale Tomori, called the Federal Government to revamp the once effective disease surveillance system in the country.
Tomori, at the conference, said for Nigeria to be ready to tackle any outbreaks as it stands now, a surveillance system backed by proper funding must in place.
According to him, Nigeria is not ready to deal with any sudden epidemic just like in Ebola because unlike years back, there are longer vibrant surveillance mechanisms on ground.
“There must be a system in place and funds must be provided for the people on it, government cannot tell people to go on field trips in the absence of vehicles and resources,” he cited. The professor of virology maintained that “a naira put on disease surveillance is much cost effective than thousands of naira spent on disease outbreak.”
Tomori noted that Nigeria was not ready during Ebola because it took three days to diagnose the disease. “The situation was handled that way because we were frightened and lucky,” he added.
Also addressing journalists at the conference on the theme was the Lagos State Health Commissioner, Dr. Jide Idris, who pointed out that apart from the conference’s essence of consolidating on recommendations from the maiden edition in Dakar, Senegal, It also serves as a platform to share knowledge on ways to tackle emerging infectious disease in the sub region.
“Public health is also a security issue and needs urgent attention, because any epidemic can breakout and we need to be prepared and surveillance needs to be effective and continues,” the commissioner noted.
He continued, “Our attention needs to be drawn to all these treats we take for granted so we do not think they are farfetched in this side of the world, because with these boko haram insurgencies, anything could happen.”
Idris cited that a case of Zika virus that was believed to be far in South America has been recorded recently in Guinea Bissau and was discovered through surveillance.
He advanced that in the light of such, local researchers and scientist in the sub region through the conference should be able to handle any emergency disease outbreaks when mobilized, rather than waiting for long in search of help from outside.
”The conference is preparing us to be ready for whatever it is that is likely to emerge. We seek to take expertise from scientists all over, we should not wait until an epidemic, for surveillance is a continuous thing,” Idris expressed.
Osibogun also stated that the conference apart from being a platform to share expertise, we are also “looking towards a vaccines strategy for some of these diseases, because lots of discussions goes on the west concerning such and so as Africa we also need to start discussions to proffer solutions to our own problems either than having to wait endlessly for foreign assistance during emergencies.”
Idris reassured Lagosians of the state’s commitment to surveillance activities saying it is an ongoing thing and data dependent. “When they are abnormal increases in data, an alert would be raised and the needful done.”
Nigeria was on October 20, 2014, declared free of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) transmission by the World Health Organisation (WHO) three months after an infected Liberian man, Mr. Patrick Sawyer, arrived by aeroplane into Lagos, Africa’s most populous city. The man, who died in First Consultants Hospital, Obalende, Lagos, five days later, set off a chain of transmission that infected a total of 19 people, of whom seven died including Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh who diagnosed the index case.
Twenty-two months on, to prevent future outbreak of Ebola in West Africa and to be better prepared for possible epidemics, experts recommend among other things: the development of diagnostic capacities in individual countries and establishment of a regional laboratory; continued training and re-training of medical personnel; institutionalizing clinical practice governance in hospitals; setting up legal frameworks to address the challenges; incorporate a wider scope of partnerships, innovations, particularly within the business community and through unprecedented forms of public-private cooperation; and establishment of new platforms of public-private cooperation to manage future outbreaks more effectively and to manage the risk of their occurrence.