The Underrated disease that keeps killing Nigerians!

Things are not out of hand, but there are certainly many more cases than we would expect.

Talha Burki

This disease has been dated back to the 1950s, and the virus was first described in 1969 from a case in the town of Lassa, in Borno state, Nigeria. The disease is relatively common in West African countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Guinea. However, I’m going to look at Nigeria alone, as this disease and the healthcare organisations in charge of prevention and care of this disease are grinding my gears. Let’s get some clear picture of what Lassa fever is, and why it should be taken seriously.

Lassa fever is contacted through the consumption of multimamate rats. Multimamate mice are also known as the African soft furred rat or Natal rat. Even though they are normally referred to as rat, they are closer in size to a mouse, with adults weighing around 60 – 75g and measuring around 15cm. Okay! Back to our main discussion.

The local people of Borno states and some part of Nigerian states sometimes eat rats as bushmeat (the meat of wild animals, consumed as food). Lassa fever is a viral haemorrhagic fever in the same family as Ebola. The disease burden is unknown – the commonly estimated figures of 100,000 to 300,000 cases per year amounts to little more than a guesswork. There is no vaccine and only one therapeutic ribavirin.

It is not a good drug, but it is better than no treatment at all.

Robert Garry
Nigeria tries to contain deadly Lassa Fever outbreak (2018)

The mortality rate of hospitalised patients is about 15%. But it uncertain to know the patients that develop severe form of the disease, and what proportion do not show symptoms. It is also not easy to know those people that are asymptomatic, that pass on the disease. Okay now that we know what Lassa fever is, here is my thoughts.

The spread of Lassa fever like most viral disease is due to contact. In the cases of Lassa, a person has to come in contact with the rat (obviously, they don’t just touch them, they eat them) or the rat faeces and urine, there are ample opportunities for people to contact or get exposed to the disease. As the rat are mostly found in food storage rooms, they can transmit the virus by urinating on the food supplies like grains. This is how they privilege people get the virus, the unprivileged ones got it by consumption of the rat as source of food.

Personally, they main reason why this virus is still a big public health concern has to do with poverty and starvation. The price of food and materials has doubled since the beginning of the current government. The price of Garri (a popular food for the underprivileged) has doubled from 20 to 50 naira. The unemployment rate has also doubled, and the number of unemployed degree holders has triple and increases every year for the past decade. People are now trying to find other alternative for survival, the main reason why the consumption of Bushmeat has increased significantly now.

As at 24th of January 2020, 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths had been reported in elven states, this is reported by the Nigerian centre for disease control. Last year, Lassa fever has killed 160 people in Nigeria.

The Nigeria government has announced increased emergency measures to contain the latest outbreak of the disease, following the death of 29 people this month as a result of the disease.

Normally, this is the part where I gave my suggestion on how this disease can be manage or how the spread can be reduced, – don’t have good suggestion. Firstly, the infestation of rats in Nigerian homes is common, and there are a handful of pesticide to handle and eradicate the rats. The good pesticides are expensive and with the shortage of food in the country and a rise in poverty, people has better things to do with the little money they have. They rather use the money to feed themselves and buy some medications and cloths for their family. The buying of pesticide will never cross their mind – it will not cross mine if I’m in their shoes.

Also, people will rather take the chance of getting infected by eating bushmeat (rats) than starving to death. The Nigeria government is specialised in paper promises, not action. They also put minimum effort toward their own people, the only time you will see action is when election comes and they’re trying to stay in power, that’s when they put maximum campaign work and try to make the environment more conducive for the underprivileged. Conducive enough to forget the past years sufferings and re-elect them back in office or the person they nominated. I’m story for been political, it wasn’t my intention.

However, what I said is true. They deprived us of education and other necessities enough to keep us on the palms of their hands to control us. For example, if I’m uneducated, starving and malnourished, and you come and gave me 1000 naira (about £3) to elect someone. All the suffering I have gone through for the past four years will not cross my mind, the only thing that will is, what I’m going to eat or buy for my family at that instant – nothing more! I’m not in right state of mind to think about my future at that point, my mind-set is on food.

In conclusion, the reason why we still have Lassa fever is mostly due to poverty, hunger and lack of care from the government. This is my viewpoint off course! Tell me yours in the comment section below.

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