State governments have been urged to begin public enlightenment on Lassa fever ahead of the 2018/2019 season of the fever.

The head of the Lassa Fever National Technical Working Committee at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Elsie Ilori, gave the advice at a Civil Society Organisations and Media advocacy meeting on Lassa fever, meningitis and yellow fever in Abuja.

Lassa fever though occurs all year round, picks up in December and peaks between January and May.

According to the situation report from NCDC, between January and November 11 this year, the number of suspected cases of Lassa fever was 3,016. Of these cases, 559 were confirmed positive, 17 observed as probable while 2,440 were confirmed negative.

Also since the latest outbreaks, there have been 143 deaths from confirmed cases and 17 probable cases in 22 states across 90 local government areas.

Ilori said it is the collective responsibility of the federal government, states, local governments and society at large to prepare for the outbreak of the disease.

She said NCDC was working on new guidelines as well as a five-year strategic plan to tackle the fever in Nigeria.

Ilori said there is a need for thorough research into the disease as there remains little knowledge of it in spite of the fact the fever has been in the country for close to 50 years.

The official said Lassa fever starts from the community and as such, there is a need for constant advocacy and preparedness campaign to enlighten the public on what is needed to prevent the disease.

“It is what the states and local governments areas does that really makes a lot of difference as they are closer to the community. They need to educate the public on what they need to do to prevent the disease from occurring. Where we do not prevent, we want to be able to pick the disease from becoming epidemic,” she said.

Expressing fears rodents may not only be the vector of the disease, Ilori said NCDC was collaborating with the World Health Organisation (WHO) on researches to ascertain if there are other animals spreading the virus.

“We need to emphasise the need for preparation and enlightenment about the disease across the country. Though some states such as Edo, Ondo, Bayelsa, among others are more prone to the outbreak, health workers also need to be cautious in their dealings with patients so as not to contact and spread the disease.

“During the 2018 Lassa fever outbreak, it was the health workers who led to the spread because they were not cautious. We do not want them to be infected so we encourage infection prevention and control/safe burial. We also encourage risk communication. There are a lot of things we do not know about Lassa fever and that is why research is very important.”

She also explained the agency is adopting a stronger one-health mechanism by collaborating with the ministries of Agriculture, Environment, Education and everybody that matters.

“The season is fast approaching by mid-December to January the Lassa fever season begins and goes down by May. Lassa fever is all year round but peaks at some season and there is still a lot of work to do in research of the transmission of the disease”, she added.

Earlier this year, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, blamed the spread of the fever on poor preparation and tardiness of state governments.

Adewole, at an emergency meeting of the National Council on Health held in Abuja, said states health ministry’s lack of preparedness and slow medical intervention in tackling the fever upon its outbreak led to its spread.

He lamented that most states do not take prompt action and have few surveillance teams to look out for such diseases until causalities are recorded and the federal government steps in.

“We knew there were going to be cases of Lassa Fever in the country and the Federal Ministry of Health had started preparation for 2018 since March 2017. Materials and training courses were given to states as at June and August respectively and by December we had written advisory letters to the states,” the minister said.

“It is sad that in spite of all the effort, we still failed. Why should we have lots of casualties? This is the failures of the commissioners to notify their governors of the need for preparation and early detection in each state.

“It is not the responsibility of the federal government to monitor weekly health report for the states, but they are only meant to be notified when diseases are detected and we are to provide support and not to move in to coordinate the whole activities,” he said.

He emphasised the duty of states to watch out for the health of their residents through preparedness, surveillance, coordination, response, financing and monitoring.

Adewole urged that surveillance officers be deployed to local level across the states and that health commissioners should give their governors a weekly update of the public health report on their tables.

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