Suggestion on What Nigerians and their Government Must Do Before Zika virus Strikes
The World Health Organisation (WHO), on Monday declared a public health emergency of international concern on Zika virus which is “spreading explosively” through the Americas and may lead to as many as four million cases across the world before the year runs out. Conversely, the federal ministry of health merely issued travel restriction on Nigerian pregnant citizens to Latin America. We consider this preposterous, lukewarm and not pro-active enough. A virus which leaves babies born with abnormally small heads and a condition called microcephaly, leads to severe neurological disorder and paralysis deserves more.
For us, Nigeria should be part of the process to facilitate international coordination of tracking, research and response to the virus and its effects. We should be an integral part of that effort because this is an infectious, mosquito-carried viral disease like yellow fever, dengue, and chikungunya, which ordinarily have their permanent homes in temperate ecologies such as our rain forest.
We are worried because the skull-misshaping virus was first documented in monkey around the Zika region of Uganda in 1947. It might have created only sporadic and small outbreaks since then in 23 countries and territories and 4,000 babies, but its first human variant was registered in Nigeria in 1954. For us, Nigerians and their government cannot be serious about Zika by addressing it through an advisory. Here is a temperate country of over 170 million people with porous borders, inadequate medical facilities and poor personal hygiene practices. Our situation becomes worse because the world didn’t prepare for this emergency. WHO said a vaccine might be ready for testing in two years but it could be a decade before it is publicly available. These should impel our healthcare authorities to treat this as an unusual situation because of our migrant pregnant women and the coming Olympics holding in Brazil that will attract a lot of Nigerian athletes and tourists. Our lack of preparedness for anything cannot be more evident and in our estimation, the country cannot be docile or be religious about this impending but avoidable epidemic.
Rather than treating this as an elite challenge that could affect only travellers to infected countries, we must emplace public enlightenment campaigns against the virus which must percolate to remote and rural areas where its spread would be naturally more devastating. Beyond the mania of setting aside certain amount of money to fight epidemic diseases, our governments, at all levels, should begin to prepare for the unknown. Aggressive urban mosquito abatement programmes would help reduce human infections, as well as an effective vaccine and mass, routine vaccination of hundreds of millions of people across the country until a more permanent solution is found. In the end, the only hope for eliminating human disease would rest with the invention of a vaccine. A sudden culture shift might be impracticable, but good personal hygiene will bolster immunity. Our people must also be alert to symptoms associated with Zika virus like rashes, mild fever, usually accompanied by conjunctivitis, muscle or joint pain and general malaise that begin 2-7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito, for them to seek prompt help. One out of four infected people develops symptoms of the disease. Another frightening dimension is the revelation that it is also sexually transmittable. A case has already been reported in the United States of America. We must therefore, rise above haphazard response to emergencies. (Culled from Leadership report)