Experts have called on the Federal Government to treat the rising cases of tuberculosis and cholera in the country as medical emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
They urged the government to see the current spread of the diseases as a medical challenge that required urgent attention in the areas of awareness, prevention and treatment.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Iheakweazu, had said 1,786 suspected cases of cholera were reported in Bauchi, Kano, Niger, Zamfara, Kaduna, Plateau between June 20 and June 26.
Iheakweazu said while Bauchi had the highest number of cases which stood at 1,239, Kano followed with 362 cases.
He also disclosed that between January, 2021, and June 27, a total of 14, 343 suspected cases of cholera, including 325 deaths, were reported from 15 states and the FCT.
Also, the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria recently identified Lagos State as the epicentre of tuberculosis in the country, with more than 300,000 cases left undiagnosed yearly nationwide.
A Senior Public Health Adviser, Africa Centre for Disease Control, and Clinical Consultant in Global Public Health, Public Health England, Dr Ebere Okereke, attributed the spread of tuberculosis to overcrowding, malnutrition, and limited access to health services.
Okereke, who is also a technical adviser at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, described the situation as a problem that required not only the efforts of professionals alone but also a whole government approach working with the citizens.
She said, “TB thrives where poverty, overcrowding, malnutrition, and limited access to health services exist. Lagos State is a megacity with a massive population too, many of which live in poor overcrowded accommodation with limited access to health care. Therefore, one case of TB can spread to entire households and groups living in overcrowded spaces.
Similarly, a consultant pulmonologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Dr Oluwafemi Ojo, lamented that the COVID-19 pandemic had affected the attention given to the treatment and diagnosis of tuberculosis.
While calling for more awareness on the treatment of the disease, Ojo also called for laws to regulate housing and encourage decongestion as part of efforts to reduce transmission.
“To a large extent, the pandemic has affected TB treatment and diagnosis for some reasons. There has been a diversion of attention to COVID-19 more than any other disease. There are so many aspects to it. For instance, for quite some time, we had a lockdown so that affected the visit of patients to hospitals; again, most general hospitals restricted the number of patients coming in.
On her part, a consultant physician and gastroenterologist in Internal Medicine at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Dr Nnenna Ajayi, said residents without access to potable water and depending on streams could be exposed to the risk of an infection in the rainy season.
Ajayi said, “Cholera is partly a water-borne disease and is fecal-orally transmitted and where there is indiscriminate open defecation, it means that any disease transmitted through fecal matter can be washed into streams.
You know this is the rainy season and it is likely to wash things into water. So, where people have poor water supply, the water is likely to be contaminated at this time. That may be why it is riding with the rains. And, of course, where people have poor water supply, they may not have a choice but to just take whatever they have.
“Most importantly is the level of people’s level of knowledge about the importance of good hygiene practices.
“For those who are ill, they need to seek medical attention because cholera is a disease associated with the loss of a lot of water from the body and it can kill within a short time because literally, the digestive system is not like a leaking tap, and water in the body can just pass out within a short while. The government should also come out and support people because sometimes people want to go to the hospital but out-of-pocket expenditure may be catastrophic. So, it’s an emergency now.”
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