The spread of cholera in the nation’s capital and across the country in the last six months is highly concerning, Olawale Ajimotokan and Onyebuchi Ezigbo report
Cholera is a highly virulent gastro intestinal disease characterised in its most severe form by a sudden onset of acute watery diarrhea that can lead to death arising from dehydration.
In the last one month, an increasing number of cholera cases has been reported across states of the federation. The most affected states are Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Zamfara, Bayelsa, Kaduna and the Federal Capital Territory.
A report by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), said 10,833 suspected cholera cases have been reported in 15 states, including the FCT between January and June this year. The number of confirmed cases is 112 while the fatality is 289.
The FCT has witnessed the most frightening outbreak of the sporadic faeco-oral disease during the raining season. This results from the contamination of food matters and water sources by pathogens.
The outbreak is usually triggered by poor living conditions and lack of access to potable water supply, in over-crowded communities.
As at the last count, about 514 suspected cases have been reported in the current outbreak in three Area Councils of the FCT.
The worst affected area councils are Bwari, Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) and Gwagwalada.
While giving situational updates on the outbreak at a recent advocacy meeting with various agencies, the acting Director, FCT Public Health Department, Dr. Saddiq Abdulraheem, said 36 deaths have so far been recorded since the outbreak of the disease.
Early in July, the Senior Special Assistant (Media) to FCT Minister, Abubakar Sani presented the latest figure on the number of cases.
The update via a statement was sequel to the first official pronouncement on the outbreak in June by the Acting Secretary FCT Health and Human Services Secretariat (HHSS), Dr Mohammed Kawu.
According to Kawu, the seven deaths in the territory were linked to 91 suspected cases and were all reported in AMAC.
He said that HHSS immediately began to investigate the cases after it received complaint of sporadic cases of gastroenteritis in some FCT communities.
The communities were Dei-Dei, Zuba, Shenagum, Kubwa and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP Camp) in Wassa.
He noted that the secretariat deployed some Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) kits, drugs and consumables to some of the facilities that have reported Cholera cases.
But sadly, that intervention, however, has failed to stop the transition as many more people are falling sick to the bacteria.
A good case is the Wassa Resettlement community, better known as the IDP camp, where many of the dwellers, resettled from crisis torn communities in the North-east and some parts of Kaduna State, live in squalid conditions.
The Secretary of the IDP camp, Usman Ibrahim revealed that the 5,317 people that presently reside in camp divided into seven divisions are exposed to Cholera because of the hazardous hygienic conditions.
He clarified that though eight cholera cases have been confirmed in the camp, only two persons have died from the disease.The victims, who were elderly residents, died before they got proper medical attention.
Ibrahim blamed the tendency of the people to be drinking from the nearby stream due to lack of access to portable water as the cause of the outbreak.
“Lack of clean water is the cause of the outbreak. Although we have about seven bore holes in the camp, regrettably not all of them are working. As a result, women have been fetching water from the stream that is contaminated with human faeces,” Ibrahim said.
He said the bore holes had not been put into use in the last three months due to unavailability of generating sets to power them given that the camp is not connected to the national gridlock.
Ibrahim, who is from Bornu State, thanked the wife of the Chief of Army Staff, Mrs Salamatu Faruk for procuring two generators for the camp and other relief items when a delegation of the Nigerian Army Officers’ Wives Association (NAOWA) on Humanitarian outreach programme visited the camp on July 5 to commemorate Nigerian Army Day Celebration (NADCEL) 2021.
“The problem here is the water that is not clean. Besides many residents live in squalid conditions that is not good for habitation. We are appealing to government to resolve the water challenge by providing more generators to aid the pumping of the bore holes that are serving the seven quarters,” he said.
In addition, he appealed to the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) to hasten to the completion of the proposed health centre designated to service the community.
He lamented that work on the health centre has been abandoned half way.
Joshua, who resides in the community and specialises in bore hole drilling, said the scale of the cholera outbreak that afflicted the community had been downplayed because of lack of data given that the residents mainly patronise local chemists if the need for medical intervention arose.
“There was a time I had a meal with a man at a canteen but two days, he died of Cholera. In the same week, about seven people died of Cholera, but the data was never collated. The outbreak spilled over to the nearby Madalla Village, leading to the death of unspecified number of people.
“I have started telling people I know to be careful about their eating habit given the outbreak here. Although there is a borehole here, it can barely produce enough water, warranting many go to the stream to source water which is impure and contaminated with pathogens,” Joshua said.
He also decried the poor attitude of most the IDPs to personal hygiene. He said that the people habitually defecate in the bushes around the camp and in some of the improvised conveniences that litter the open spaces as almost all the blocks don’t have toilets.
“Lack of toilet is major problem here. I reliably learned that there is a standing order from the building engineers to the IDPs not to use the toilets as the buildings have not formally handed over to government, which is yet to pay the contractors for the job executed”.
This claim was reinforced by another resident, Samuel Musa. He said many of the houses in the camp lack conveniences.
But the FCTA has said it is taking proactive measures to tackle the sudden outbreak of Cholera in the FCT.
Kawu said the Health and Human Services Secretariat (HHSS) has commenced sanitisation and advocacy visit to the heads of key management agencies in the Territory.
The HHSS also said its officials have identified and met with key stakeholders such as Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), FCT Water Board and the management of FCT Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA), towards curtailing the outbreak.
On his part, Sani said the FCT Administration was also working very closely with the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) on all the necessary interventions to end the scourge of the disease in the Territory.
He said continuous surveillance on communities with suspected cases were being conducted in the six Area councils of the FCT to confirm the prevalence of the disease.
He said the FCTA had taken several measures to stop the further spread of Cholera as well as provide the highest level of care to those affected by the disease.
Some of the measures taken from early May 2021 when the diarrheal outbreak was reported in the FCT include: the formation of Cholera Emergency Operation Centres and training and sensitisation of health care providers in both secondary and primary healthcare facilities and some private ones as well as community sensitisation on causes and means of treating and prevention of Cholera.
The FCTA also said it had embarked on high level engagement with all the six Area Councils chairmen, religious and traditional leaders on handling the scourge.
Also the NCDC, which is the lead agency on infectious disease control in the country, said that it has activated a multi-sectoral National Cholera Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), following an increase in cholera cases across the country.
The EOC is co-led with the Federal Ministries of Environment and Water Resources, given the link between cholera and water, sanitation and hygiene.
The National EOC has also been supporting states to ensure a coordinated, rapid and effective response to the ongoing outbreak. This includes the deployment of National Rapid Response Teams (RRT) to support the response at state level, provision of medical and laboratory supplies, scale up of risk communications amongst other activities.
Additionally, the resources that have been developed as part of Nigeria’s COVID-19 response are being used to strengthen the response to the cholera outbreak. This includes the digitalisation of the national surveillance system, establishment of laboratories and treatment centres, training of health workers among others.
Cholera is a preventable and treatable epidemic -prone disease which is transmitted by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. The number of cholera cases tends to increase with the onset of the rainy season. The risk of death from cholera is higher, when treatment is delayed. It is very important to visit a health facility if you have symptoms such as watery diarrhea and vomiting.
The NCDC urged members of the public to be aware of the risk of the disease and adhere to g precautionary measures to ensure safety including boiling and storing of water in a clean and safe container before drinking.
Washing of hands frequently with soap under clean running water to prevent infectious diseases including cholera. This is especially important after defecation and before handling food or eating.