Resident doctors in Nigeria have called on the federal government to declare a state of emergency on Lassa fever. The group, under the aegis of Association for Resident Doctors, made the call in Abuja on Saturday as the country is currently battling the scourge of Lassa fever.
It has become a yearly occurrence for Nigeria to lose health care workers to the disease, the doctors said, adding that they had already lost some of their members in this year’s outbreak. As at January 26, a total of 689 suspected cases with 258 confirmed cases were reported, with 41 deaths.
Five health workers were among the 41 deaths recorded. As the first responders to Lassa fever patients, health workers are susceptible to getting infected with the disease, the doctors said. “Due to these reasons, the association has deemed it fit to call on the government to get serious on finding a lasting solution to combating the disease,” they added.
Speaking at the end of the annual conference of its National Executive Council, the president of the association, Aliyu Sokomba, said the decision to declare a national emergency on the disease will boost preparedness of health institutions in the country. “NARD calls on the Federal Government to declare a national emergency on Lassa Fever and also to evaluate hazard allowance paid to health workers considering the increased risk faced by health workers.
“Declaring an emergency is owing to the poor preparedness in response of our health institution in handling cases of Lassa fever. “You will agree with me that it is only when the index case must have come with contact with a lot of individuals, especially health care providers that they are identified, at a much later stage.
“If we have a state of emergency to improve the preparedness of our health institutions as well as their response in addressing the case of Lassa, it will contain cases of the disease in Nigeria,” he said. Mr Aliyu said the welfare of health workers should be a priority to government at all levels due to risks faced in the cause of doing their jobs.
“NARD call on the federal government to make the issue of security of health care workers a priority both in and outside the hospitals. “NEC seems to state clearly that whenever a member is assaulted, the association shall call on their members to suspend work until adequate safety is guaranteed in such institutions and the assailant is brought to book fully,” Mr Aliyu said.
As part of the resolution reached at NEC meeting, the association seeks the implementation of the National Health Act, 2014. He also urged the government to ensure speedy payments of arrears off minimum wage and salary adjustments. Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF) caused by the Lassa virus. The natural carrier of the virus is the multimammate rat, but the disease is also spread through human to human transmission.
Lassa fever is transmitted from the excreta or urine of the multimammate rat. Anyone who is suspected of being in contact with a Lassa patient needs to be presented to the health facilities within a period of 21 days. Lassa fever at early stages present symptoms similar to febrile illness such as malaria.
Symptoms of the disease generally include fever, headache, sore throat, general body weakness, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pains, chest pain, and in severe cases, unexplainable bleeding from ears, eyes, nose, mouth, vagina, anus and other body orifices. It could also present persistent bleeding from sites of intravenous cannulation. Early diagnosis and treatment increase a patient’s chances of survival.