THE news that Nigeria is in the throes of yet another cholera epidemic has taken nobody by surprise. Across the 36 states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), there is an acute lack of potable water. According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the shortfall in the availability of cholera vaccines is one of the major factors accounting for the recent surge in the number of cases. The shortage of vaccines, it says, is affecting intervention efforts in most local government areas, wards and settlements with reported cases of the outbreak. It identifies other factors, including the lack of potable water, especially in some rural areas and urban slums, open defecation in affected communities, as well as inadequate health infrastructure and commodities for the management of patients.
In June, the NCDC had published a cholera situation report indicating that no fewer than 16 states of the federation reported 14,343 suspected cases, with 325 fatalities. Sadly, as of July 21, the cholera death toll had increased by 61 per cent within a three-week period. This brought the total number of deaths from 325 to 521, with states like Kaduna, Jigawa, Bauchi and the FCT accounting for most of the fatalities. Other states affected by the outbreak are Bayelsa, Benue, Kogi, Sokoto, Gombe, Delta, Cross River, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna, Zamfara, Kano, and Niger. The NCDC says that it would continue to scale up risk communication, build capacity for sample collection, transportation and laboratory diagnosis; develop and submit cholera vaccination requests to international coordinating groups for reactive cholera campaigns, and continue advocacy to the state government to increase funding in water, sanitation and hygiene (wash) infrastructure. This is, we believe, a step in the right direction.
It is distressing that such a basic infrastructure like pipe-borne water had been missing from the Nigerian public for decades through governmental negligence. The cholera epidemic had been waiting to happen all this while and if anything, it was even fortuitous that it didn’t happen on a larger scale. It is really unfortunate that in the face of infrastructure deficit in the health sector, the country is coping with both the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the outbreak of the cholera epidemic simultaneously. Quite tragically, the Federal Government is preoccupying itself with issues that cannot add any value to the quality of life of the citizenry. Dispensing with both logic and the law, it stoked diplomatic squabbles with the abduction of the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, and is needlessly seeking the extradition of a Yoruba self-determination crusader, Chief Sunday Adeyemo (aka Sunday Igboho) after committing murder in his Ibadan, Oyo State residence. Both exercises are draining scarce national resources when lives are being lost to poverty and disease almost on a daily basis. This is beyond sad.
The cholera outbreak casts a slur on the country’s image. It worsens the poor perception of Nigeria by the international community. It is a sad commentary on life in the country. Both the federal and state governments should arrest the outbreak immediately. The affected states must stem the surge of the epidemic by providing potable water for their citizens as a matter of urgency. They must embark on massive public enlightenment to encourage people to make behavioral adaptations and make much more informed choices. They have the tools to do this and they should engage them immediately.
Only recently, the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) alerted the country to the dangers posed by most of the sachet water sold throughout the country. Citizens need to more careful in choosing which water to consume, while the agency itself must battle the producers of harmful sachet water to a standstill. In conjunction with the federal and state ministries of health and the local government authorities, the agency should do everything it can to ensure abidance with sachet water production regulations. On their part, state governments should battle open defecation to a standstill, and work with the Federal Government to ensure that cholera vaccines become freely available. Meanwhile, the NCDC should up the ante of its activities. We also expect the universities to collaborate with the government in ending the cholera menace, as part of their social responsibilities.
The Nigerian constitution compels the government to protect the lives and property of the citizenry. If the lives of Nigerians are precious, then it is time the government woke up from its slumber.
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