ANOTHER CHOLERA EPIDEMIC
It is worrisome that another cholera outbreak in eleven states in the country has recorded no fewer than 4,665 cases. Out of this number, about 231 people have died of the epidemic. The chief epidemiologist in the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Henry Akpan, who stated this, gave the names of the affected states as Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Kano, Jigawa, Taraba, Katsina, Rivers, Ogun and Cross River. He explained that although the outbreak in some states had been controlled 'to the barest minimum,' there is the need to ensure that it is properly contained, and stopped from spreading to other states.
Already, the Federal Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, has alerted the governors of the 36 states on the need for increased funding to combat the scourge. It will be recalled that the epidemic started in Borno State before spreading to Bauchi and others. In the case of Borno State, the epidemic occurred in Gwange, Gamboru Ward, the Maiduguri metropolis and six councils, namely Abadam, Dikwa, Marte, Kala Balge, Guzamala and Kukawa, leading to the death of 50 people.
The Borno State Commissioner for Health, Modu Gubio, said that the outbreak was caused by drinking contaminated water drawn from wells and ponds in the affected communities. Meanwhile, all the affected patients are being treated at Gwange Comprehensive Health Centre and two other health centres in Maiduguri.
Also in Bauchi State, the death toll from the epidemic has increased to 67. The Chairman of the State Primary Health Care Development Agency (PHCDA), Dr. Musa Dabam, said about 1,742 persons are infected. Some of the infected people have been admitted at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital (ATBUTH), Bauchi.
Available records show that Bauchi Local Government had the highest number with 1,368 persons infected while 31 people lost their lives. Also, Ganjuwa Local Government Area recorded 284 cases and 20 deaths. Other local governments affected include Shira, Tafawa Balewa and Toro where 10 to 30 people were infected. Earlier, officials in the northern states of Borno and Bauchi, had put the death toll at 107.
While the details of the epidemic in the other affected states are yet to be made public, it will be recalled that more than 260 people died of cholera in four Northern states in the last quarter of last year.
It is sad that Nigerians die in this number from cholera, in spite of the huge amount of money committed every year to the water resources and health ministries. It is also disheartening that some states' health authorities do not take proactive measures since they are aware that the epidemic occurs almost every year in their domains.
And, when such epidemic occurs, there is usually delay in rushing the victims to available health facilities. Also, because of poverty and ignorance, some of the victims resort to self-medication, which can be fatal.
Cholera, which is caused by drinking contaminated water, can also be transmitted by infected foods. It causes serious diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. It has a very short incubation period and can be fatal if not treated promptly.
It is regrettable that many Nigerians do not have access to potable water. Out of a population of about 140 million Nigerians, only 17.2 percent have access to pipe-borne water. Also, less than half of Nigerians have access to improved sources of water, while 30 percent do not have access to adequate sanitation.
It is good that the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, has promised to assist the affected states with drugs and other logistics to combat the epidemic. Let this promise be fulfilled on time so that more lives can be saved. States that share borders with the affected ones should take proactive measures to ensure that the epidemic does not spread to their areas.
All state and local governments in the country should ensure that there is potable water and sanitation in the 774 local government areas in the country. All states should establish Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agencies (RUWASAs). Those states that have established this should ensure that they are actually working.
Providing the people, especially those in the rural areas, potable water and good sanitation is one way of preventing water-borne diseases. As long as this aspect of our public health is found wanting, we shall continue to grapple with these avoidable annual epidemics and deaths.