By Michael Olugbode
The Ministry of Environment has said it has strengthened responses to the current Lassa fever outbreak in the country.
The ministry, in a statement on Sunday, said the most recent situation report from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) of January 16, 2022 indicated 96 confirmed cases and 11 deaths from 3rd to 16th January, 2022 in 27 local government areas across 11 states that included Bauchi, Edo, Ondo, Benue, Taraba, Kaduna, Plateau, Kogi, Cross River, Ebonyi and Oyo, adding that this was in addition to the 510 confirmed cases and 102 deaths that occurred from January 2, 2022.
The statement signed by the Director of Press in the ministry, Saghir el Mohammed, revealed that activities on environmental health and sanitation response to Lassa fever outbreak in the country have been put in place, adding that the Minister of State for the ministry, Chief Sharon IKeazor, said that her ministry has already embarked on environmental health and sanitation response campaign in 11 states of the federation to ensure improvement in environmental sanitation of premises, abatement of nuisance, rodent control, food hygiene and safety.
Ikeazor, while noting that Nigeria is currently experiencing increasing number of reported Lassa fever cases across the country, revealed that before the recent outbreak, the ministry had taken proactive measures to improve the overall sanitation and hygiene situation in the country by establishing Sanitation Desks in all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT to ensure proper monitoring and proactive measures on environmental health issues and concerns.
She said: “This is in addition to the setting up of Environmental Health Surveillance Systems designed to strengthen cooperation between the states and federal government on environmental health and sanitation issues which aids information/data gathering and sharing between the federal, state and local governments.
“They are also involved in prevention and containment activities including surveillance/monitoring and reporting of Lassa fever cases and other environmental determinant diseases to the Federal Ministry of Environment headquarters. The Sanitation Desks are being replicated in all the 774 LGAs in the country.”
Ikeazor added that the ministry over the years had collaborated with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), World Health Organisation (WHO) and other stakeholders to carry out activities to prevent and contain the perennial Lassa fever outbreaks in Nigeria.
She stated that Environmental Health Officers in the ministry, in collaboration with Sanitation Desks in the states and local government Environmental Health Officers are currently in the field implementing environmental sanitation response activities in Lassa fever affected states.
She said: “As a ministry, we remain committed to our mandate of pest and vector control in Nigeria. To this end, we are entrenching sustainable programmes focusing on eliminating and reducing breeding avenues for disease vectors which involve fostering collaboration with relevant stakeholders.
“Furthermore, we shall continue to develop capacity of Environmental Health Practitioners in the federal, state and local government jurisdictions. State Ministries of Environment are hereby enjoined to develop comprehensive Lassa fever prevention programme that will include rodent infestation survey and deratization.”
The minister however assured the general public that the ministry remains committed to ensuring that the environment remains clean, healthy and safe for all.
Lassa fever virus is transmitted by rodents (rats), which can be found in our environment including homes, motor parks, offices and even places of worship. This contributes largely to the risk of spread that occurs in Nigeria and other countries with similar ecological factors.
Ikeazor, meanwhile has called on members of the public to keep their surroundings clean, keep food away from rodents, store grains and other food stuff in rodent-proof containers and cook all foods thoroughly before consumption.
She also advised residents to block rat hideouts, carry out deratization, put an end to the practice of eating rats, dry farm produce in hygienic manners by refraining from drying crops on the ground where rodents could freely run through; as Lassa fever is often associated with poor sanitary and hygiene practices with cases being recorded all year round.