Our Public Health Needs Urgent Attention: By Ray Morphy

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Minister of Health, Dr. Ehanire:

Our country is right now, facing a public health nightmare that requires urgent attention before it spirals out of control.

The earlier these issues are addressed, the better for the country and its citizens.

Some of the challenges are dire and need urgent attention. Lassa fever is back with a vengeance. Government authorities have announced increased emergency measures to contain the latest outbreak of Lassa fever following the death of 29 people from the viral disease.

“As at 24th of January 2020, 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths had been reported in 11 states, “the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control(NCDC) said in a statement, recently. Last year, the disease claimed more than 160 lives in Nigeria.

A national emergency operations centre had been activated to coordinate the response “to the increasing number of Lassa fever cases across the country.”

We have been battling lassa fever for years, yet each year it poses a bigger challenge because our health sector is not growing with the times. While we are facing lassa fever challenge, the world is alarmed over coronavirus outbreak in China which may have dire consequences for Nigeria due to our economic relationships with China.

We have seen increased travels between the two countries. How ready is Nigeria to contain coronavirus outbreak if it ever reaches our country?

 Early this week, Chinese authorities revealed that the death toll from the deadly coronavirus outbreak had jumped to 81 just as the hard – hit Province of Hubei announced 24 new fatalities. The total number of confirmed cases across China rose sharply to 2, 744

Cases have been confirmed in the semi – autonomous territories of Macau and Hong Kong. South Korea confirmed its fourth case, yesterday. Scattered cases have also been confirmed in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, the United States, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada and Australia.

The US has confirmed cases in Washington state, Chicago, southern California and Arizona. The growing worldwide spread should alarm Nigerian authorities to rise up to the challenge, in case coronavirus makes its way to our country.

This new contagion has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which originated in China in 2002 and went on to kill hundreds of people not only in mainland China but also in Hong Kong and further afield.

On January 22, 2020 the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control issued a public health advisory on the coronavirus. The public health advisory detailed Nigeria’ s preparedness and response to the coronavirus.

 “The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is currently coordinating a multi-sectoral technical group that is assessing and managing the risk of importation to Nigeria. NCDC is in close communication with the World Health Organization (WHO) who is closely monitoring the situation globally.

WHO is in direct communication with the Government of China and other affected countries, and has released technical and travel guidance.

The Port Health Services unit of the Federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria has been placed on alert and has heightened screening measures at the points of entry, ”the advisory said.

We can only hope that the authorities are walking the talk. And that ‘if God forbids,’ as we say in Nigeria, coronavirus is detected in Nigeria they are ready to deal with it.

Another public health concern is the forceful and dangerous ripening of fruits with the poisonous calcium carbide, a crime which has become a trend among fruits sellers in Nigeria.

Health experts have expressed worry over the wrong use of these chemicals and the attendant health effects. According to the experts carbide poisoning has reportedly caused headache, dizziness, memory loss, mood disturbances, mental confusion, sleepiness, cerebral oedema and seizure.

 Other effects include numbness in the legs and hands, general weakness, cold and damp skin and low blood pressure. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable as the chemical residue in the fruit could lead to miscarriage.

 The experts also noted that Calcium Carbide is alkaline in nature and erodes the mucosal tissue in the abdominal region and disrupts intestinal functions, adding that cases of stomach upset after eating carbide ripened mangoes have been reported severally.

It would be recalled that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), in 2018, issued an alert that the use of calcium carbide for artificial ripening of fruit poses serious health hazards.

Director General of NAFDAC, Prof. Moji Adeyeye, who gave the warning, said that calcium carbide, when sprayed with water reacts chemically to produce acetylene, which acts like ethylene and ripens fruits.

 She said that the substance generally contains impurities such as arsenic, lead particles, phosphorus amongst others that pose a number of very serious health hazards.

According to her, “Calcium Carbide is alkaline in nature and erodes the mucosal tissue in the abdominal region and disrupts intestinal functions. Consuming such artificially ripened fruits could result in sleeping disorders, mouth ulcers, skin rashes, kidney problems and possibly even cancer.”

Other symptoms she said include diarrhoea, burning or tingling sensation in abdomen and chest, difficulty in swallowing, irritation in eyes / skin, sore throat, cough, shortness in breathing and numbness.

Medical experts combating Lassa fever

When Nigerian health officials are not dealing with those whose health had been compromised by eating fruits ripened by carbide, they are confronted by the menace of fake and adulterated drugs in the system.

The problems of fake drug proliferation has affected the credibility of the healthcare system and can exert very harmful effects on the consumer resulting to illness; disability and even death and anyone can be a victim.

 Some of the incidences have resulted in death even among children because most times the consumers do not know the quality of what they are buying or taking. This makes it imperative that there is need to intensify effort in fake drug eradication.

NAFDAC is the government agency in Nigeria that is fully empowered to regulate and control the importation, exportation, manufacture, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of drugs in order to ensure that safe and quality drugs are available to the public.

 As NAFDAC tasks itself dutifully in fighting fake drugs, more challenges comes up from unscrupulous drug dealers who sometimes have the backings of lawmakers and politicians making the stipulated drug laws and standard unattainable.

From the foregoing it is obvious that our policy-makers in the health sector have their job cut out for them. The aforementioned challenges are not the only problems confronting the sector, but addressing these issues especially those that pose present danger (lassa fever and coronavirus) needs urgent attention and are also evolving.

The problem of fake drugs and ripening of fruits with chemicals needs concerted efforts to deal with it. Similarly, the law enforcement agents must deal ruthlessly with culprits to serve as a deterrent to others. 

Aluta continua!

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