Ike Nnachi, Abakaliki
Over 58 Lassa fever patients have been treated by the Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital (AE-FUTHA) this year.
Mr Elton Mbofana, the MSF project coordinator in Ebonyi State, stated this on Tuesday in Abakaliki, capital of the state.
According to him, 38 percent of the patients, however, died due to late presentation of the disease.
Mr Mbofana said with the outbreak of the annual dry season in Nigeria, communities should take measures to help prevent Lassa fever.
He noted that there is still no vaccine for the treatment of the disease adding that the primary drug for its treatment, Ribavirin is very costly putting it out of reach of most people in the country.
He, however, noted that treatment is free at the hospital thanks to MSF and its partnership with the hospital and the State Government.
“So far this year, MSF teams have treated 58 patients for the disease, while also providing them with mental health support and conducting awareness-raising activities in the communities.
“MSF teams have also responded to emergencies and outbreak of other diseases in Ebonyi and neighbouring states,” he said.
Mr Mbofana said the country has recorded 894 reported cases of the disease this year between January and August which is higher than the 510 cases recorded in 2021 within same period.
Investigations show that at least 10 healthcare workers in the hospital have lost their lives to Lassa fever between 2005 till date.
“Healthcare workers are most at risk of catching the disease. The major risk for them is contracting the disease while treating a patient with Lassa fever, due to a lack of personal protective equipment and sub-optimal infection prevention and control measures,” Mr Mbofana said.
He harped on the need for healthcare workers to be protected not only for their well-being but also to prevent their absence from having an impact on the health system.
The MSF State coordinator said early diagnosis and treatment can radically increase people’s chances of Survival.
“With the approach of the annual dry season in Nigeria, international
medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSP) is encouraging communities to take measures to help prevent lassa fever.
“By detecting the disease early, and by taking preventive hygiene measures such as ensuring houses are free of rats, many people’s lives can be saved.
“Lassa fever is a contagious disease spread through contact with infected rats and through uncovered food contaminated with rat faeces or urine.
“Symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat, general body weakness, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, chest pain and, in severe cases,
unexplained bleeding from the ears, eyes, nose, mouth and other parts of the body.
“The time between infection and the appearance of symptoms ranges from three to 21 days. Lassa fever infects around 300,000 people in West Africa each year and causes around 5,000 deaths, with most cases in Nigeria occurring during the dry season from December to March,” he said.
MSF project medical referent, Dr Slaymen Ammar, called for subsidization of Lassa fever treatment costs.
“The cost of treatment needs to be subsidized to ensure that everyone has early access to care.
“We urge the Nigerian health authorities to improve funding so that treatment of Lassa fever is free of charge and so that staff in health facilities can implement effective infection prevention and control measures.
“In addition, reducing the concentration of rodents through good waste management and food storage practices can also cut Lassa fever transmission and prevalence,” he said.
Medecins Sans Frontiers which translates to Doctors Without Borders is an international, independent medical humanitarian organisation formed in the 1971 in Paris, France by doctors and journalists.
With presence and activities in 72 countries, the organisation provides medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare.
MSF has worked continuously in Nigeria since 1996, and currently provides medical care, free of charge, in 11 states across the country.