A rather strange illness that has taken several lives in the country has been identified as yellow fever despite campaigns against the scourge in the past. ELEOJO IDACHABA, in this report, takes a look at the scale of the disease.
At a time when Nigerians were struggling to put behind them the nuisance posed by coronavirus, like a bolt from the blue, what looks like another pandemic reared its ugly head in many communities across the country.
And in an attempt to explain it away initially, health experts called it a ‘strange disease,’ but its ‘strangeness’ has become a big concern as it has claimed at least 100 lives in the last one month when it started.
Blueprint Weekend gathered as at the last count, states like Ebonyi, Benue, Delta, Kogi and Enugu to mention a few had been identified as hotbeds of the illness where it is creating ripples.
Kogi Assembly’s effort
In its attempt to check the spread, the Kogi state House of Assembly called on the state government and the Federal Ministries of Health to unravel the cause of the disease which has allegedly killed 50 persons in various communities within the Olamaboro local government area of the state alone.
The House made the call at a plenary following the adoption of a motion on Urgent Public Importance by Anthony Ujah (APC-Olamaboro).
According to the lawmaker, the unknown disease comes with symptoms such as headache, red eyes, loss of appetite, inability to urinate or defecate, convulsion and ultimately death.
He said residents of Etteh in the local government area have been thrown into confusion by the outbreak of the alien disease.
He said the cause or nature of the disease “is still unknown,” adding that “infected persons die within one week of contracting the disease.”
More worrisome, according to him, is that all efforts to get a solution using local herbs and treatment at primary health centres with referrals to clinics and hospitals in neighbouring Ogugu and Okpo have been unsuccessful.
“The reports reaching my constituency office from the community leaders confirmed that over 50 people between the age of 25 and 40 years have died since September,” he said.
Supporting the motion, the deputy speaker, Ahmed Mohammed, said the community “shares boundary with Enugu state and efforts should be made to urgently avert further loss of lives.”
Mohammed prayed that the state government should establish a hospital in the boundary town of Etteh community to prevent future occurrence and other health challenges.
The speaker of the House, Prince Mathew Kolawole, later asked for a minute silence in honour of the deceased and directed that a letter be sent to the Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja, for immediate support and assistance.
Kogi govt’s denials
Meanwhile, the Kogi state government has dismissed reports that a strange disease killed 50 persons in Olomaboro local government council of the state, stating rather that the deaths were recorded in neighbouring Enugu state.
The Commissioner for Health, Dr. Saka Audu, made the clarification, saying it was impossible for the disease to cross the boundary from Enugu to Kogi. He, however, noted that the dead were within the economic and productive age of 25 to 40 years and also listed the symptoms to include headache, red eye, loss of appetite, inability to urinate or defecate and convulsion before death.
Audu faulted the claim by lawmakers about the disease and urged journalists to visit the community for on-the-spot assessment and validation.
“There is no death from any strange disease on our side of the divide. Etteh, a border community with Enugu state, is in Olamaboro local government. I have been in contact with the Enugu health commissioner who said samples have been taken from Enugu residents while even NCDC had said the deaths in Enugu are from yellow fever.
Also, a Rapid Response Team from Kogi Ministry of Health has been to Etteh twice. No death was recorded,” he said.
On why the disease couldn’t have crossed the border from Enugu into Etteh in Kogi state, Audu said vaccination has been carried out in the area during a previous disease outbreak.
“Recall that in 2017 we had a yellow fever outbreak in Yagba West in Kogi state. Part of the state’s response was the appropriate vaccination in the local government area and those contiguous ones such as Lokoja, Yagba East and the adjoining local government areas in Kwara state. Also in 2018, there was a vaccination for everyone in Kogi state aged nine months and above. So, such deaths as reported are not possible.”
In Delta state, where the strange illness had also been noticed, the government said the deadly disease presumed to be yellow fever has claimed 22 lives, according to the Commissioner for Health, Dr Mordi Ononye.
Information has it that no fewer than 30 youths between the ages of 18 and 25 had died in the state.
Ononye, however, said seven others who have the illness are being managed at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) in Asaba, adding further that the state government has also sent samples to the Reference Region Laboratory in Dakar, Senegal for further confirmation of the cause.
According to him, the state government had deployed health officials to the area to mitigate the effect of the disease; therefore, urged residents not to panic.
“Samples were collected from patients and sent to the laboratory. We have received results and the results point to yellow fever as the cause of deaths we heard of in those areas.
The result we have received is helping to move us to a more definitive action while we still await a final authentication from the Reference Regional Laboratory in Dakar.
“We have begun immediate outbreak response activities. As we speak, we have informed Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), National Primary Healthcare Development Agency which usually collaborates with us, and that is why they have sent teams to support us,” he said.
Also, in Benue state, no fewer than 17 persons have died of the strange illness ravaging communities around Okpeilo-Otukpa area in the Ogbadibo local government area of the state two weeks ago.
According to a statement issued by the Commissioner for Health and Human Services, Dr. Emmanuel Ikwulono, “At the time of the receipt of the report on November 9, 2020, about 17 persons were already said to have died of the illness.
We currently have one case which was brought to Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi, by a relative of the patient. Others are receiving treatment in different hospitals.”
He said the government was aware of the outbreak and had responded swiftly to facilitate investigation towards establishing the cause of the illness.
“His Excellency Governor Samuel Ortom has approved funds to enable the state Ministry of Health and Human Services to carry out the investigation. In the meantime, we advise the people of Ogbadibo and its environs to maintain good hygiene practices and report anyone with the said symptoms to the Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers in the local government area, or call the Benue Emergency Operations Centre.”
While all of these were going on, the state government announced that the strange disease that claimed 20 lives in the state has been verified to be yellow fever.
The Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mrs. Ngunna Adingi, disclosed this to newsmen at the end of the State Executive Council meeting in Makurdi.
The commissioner said the results of samples collected and sent to the National Reference Laboratory revealed that the disease was yellow fever, adding the state government had resolved to vaccinate the people of the Council and neighbouring local councils.
“Our appeal to the people of Ogbadibo is that they should make themselves available for vaccination because the governor has asked that people be vaccinated not only in Ogbadigbo, but also the close-by local councils such as Okpokwu and Ado local councils,” she said.
In the same vein, the Enugu state government has confirmed that strange deaths have occurred in the state as a result of the spread of strange disease in three local councils like Nsukka, Isiuzo, and Igbo-Etiti. Consequently, the government stated that officials of the ministry of health had visited the affected local councils and collected samples for testing as was done for victims in Igboeze-north.
The Commissioner for Health, Dr. Ikechukwu Obi, who confirmed the presence of the strange disease, said, “New set of samples from these local councils have been sent to the National Reference Laboratory at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, for a thorough and complete examination to determine conclusively the reasons for these new set of reports and the results are expected early this week.”
He said further that the state government was collaborating with federal government agencies and other international agencies to ensure that best practices were carried out to solve the problem.
“The state’s Ministry of Health’s Rapid Response Team, Local Council Rapid Response Teams, International and National Partners have also visited these councils to investigate the reports and take samples for testing just as was done for victims at Igboeze North,” he said.
He, therefore, extended the state government condolences to all that had lost loved ones.
In the meantime, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, has attributed the strange deaths in Enugu and other states of the federation to the prevalent cases of yellow fever.
The minister said this while addressing State House correspondents at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) presided over by the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
In the same vein, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has confirmed that what is currently ravaging parts of the country as a strange disease is yellow fever.
According to NCDC’s director-general, Dr. Chikwe Iheakwazu, the Centre is currently supporting state governments in response to suspected outbreak of yellow fever following reports of a sudden spike in cases and deaths in some communities.
“On the 2nd and 3rd of November 2020, NCDC was notified by the state ministries of health in Delta and Enugu states respectively of cases presenting with symptoms indicative of a viral haemorrhagic fever. Most cases presented with fever, headache, and fatigue, jaundice vomiting (with or without blood).
“As at November 16, 2020, three samples from Delta and one sample from Enugu tested positive for yellow fever at Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital Laboratory and NCDC’s National Reference Laboratory, Gaduwa. More samples are being tested from both states to confirm the causative organism of this outbreak.
“The State Epidemiology Teams are leading the response with support from NCDC, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). An incident management system has been activated by NCDC to coordinate response activities and Rapid Response Teams (RRT) has been deployed to both states.
“NCDC and state RRTs are carrying out active case search, risk communications and community engagement as well as ensuring prompt management of cases. Our sister agency, NPHCDA is working with the affected states to plan for a vaccination campaign.
“NCDC, therefore, advises the public to take precautionary measures to reduce the risk of yellow fever infection as it is working with the affected states, other government agencies and our partners to reduce the risk of spread of the disease and ensure cases are well-managed to reduce the number of deaths.”
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