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Lagos battles cholera, as it did COVID

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If there is any government official that many Lagosians want to see regularly address the media, the Commissioner of Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, is NOT the one. The reason is that his story is usually like that of the proverbial elder running through a thicket of elephant grasses. Yoruba sages say if the fellow is not after something, something is surely after him.

The last time Abayomi was constantly on air was 2020 through early 2022, when COVID rattled the world and made Lagos its most affected spot in Nigeria. Thank God, COVID has become history in spite of the havoc it wreaked, even as it also made some hero of the Babajide Sanwo-Olu government based on its inspiring and dogged response to the challenge, which was globally acknowledged. More importantly, however, is the fact that the health commissioner may have returned to the strongman’s podium as Lagos is one of the states experiencing cholera outbreak in the country.

As of Monday, 24 June, death toll in the outbreak had risen to 29 in the state, with suspected cases soaring to 579 and confirmed cases hitting 43. You could thus get right that Abayomi would hardly remain indoors now. A day after he churned out some data on the problem, he, indeed, addressed the press at Alausa, Ikeja, on Monday. According to him, the number of deaths rose because the majority of the patients presented themselves late to hospitals.

Abayomi stated that government and its partners had embarked on an active case search and contact tracing to ensure that the spread  was halted. He urged Lagosians with suspected cases to report to hospitals as treatment was free. The commissioner disclosed that since the outbreak on 5 June 2024, cases had been rising, with the highest ones reported on five days later. He, however, stressed that government officials had  deliberately gone out to search for those with suspected cases.

Symptoms, treatment

As it is with all diseases, cholera prevention is better than cure. Having the right information and swiftly acting on such are key.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cholera is an extremely virulent disease transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated food or water. Cholera can cause severe acute watery diarrhoea and the severe forms of the disease can kill within hours if left untreated.

Most people infected with V. cholerae do not develop any symptoms, although the bacteria are present in their faeces for 1–10 days after infection and are shed back into the environment, potentially infecting other people.

“Among people who develop symptoms, the majority have mild or moderate symptoms. It takes between 12 hours and 5 days for a person to show symptoms. A minority of patients develop acute watery diarrhoea with severe dehydration. This can lead to death if left untreated,” WHO noted in a report.

On Monday, Abayomi also listed the symptoms of cholera to include profuse diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, fever, abdominal cramps and shock.  According to him, those affected could be given Oral Rehydration Therapy, ORT, to halt the dehydration before they are taken to the hospital.

He listed areas with the highest cholera burden to include Lagos Island, Eti-Osa and Kosofe Local Governments, while there are cases in Ajeromi, Ifako Ijaiye, among others. Although the commissioner said no cases had been reported in any Lagos school, he said many children were affected by the cholera outbreak along with traders and artisans.

“We have continued inspection of cases in mostly affected places, intensify sensitisation to ensure Lagosians are aware”, he said, urging residents to support government by maintaining personal hygiene, washing of hands frequently, reporting suspected cases, among others.

Lagos’ peculiar challenge

Certain factors make the battle against any disease a peculiar one in Lagos. The first is the huge population, which may be overwhelming unless the government more than doubles its efforts and wit. Secondly, the state continually receives newcomers from different parts of the country and beyond. This means that, as it happened during the Ebola and COVID sagas, different kinds of diseases can be imported into the state, while the burden becomes that of the people and government. Besides, Lagos is a domain where the homes of many people are far from their places of work. Some, for instance, live in the Sango/Ifo area of Ogun State but work on Victoria Island or Lekki, straddling several kilometres. Many residents of the Mowe-Ibafo area in the same Ogun work in Lagos, just as the sanity that has returned to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway , following its reconstruction, means  that some people now practically live in the Oyo State capital (Ibadan) but work in Lagos. The implication is that tracking the source and direction of a disease like cholera will be tricky.

On a general note, the biting inflation and general socio-economic challenges in the country also somehow make the fight against cholera complicated. Experts say food contamination and poor water are among the carriers of germs that breed the scourge. Unfortunately, the rising cost of not just table water but also sachet (pure) water is an incentive for some folks to explore alternative forms of suspicious liquids. This factor may, as a result, be part of what the Sanwo-Olu administration will look into and so get as proactive as it is known for in terms of special interventions.

Avoiding cholera, according to Cleveland

There is a lot to learn from an article on clevelandclinic.org, in which the Ohio, United States-based medical centre notes that people who don’t live in or visit areas with poor sanitation have little chance of getting cholera.

Cleveland adds: “Avoid tap water, water fountains and ice cubes. This precaution applies to water you drink and water you use to wash dishes, prepare food and brush your teeth.

“Don’t eat raw or undercooked seafood. Drink water only if it’s bottled, canned, boiled or treated with certain chemicals. And don’t drink out of a bottle or can with a broken seal. Eat prepackaged foods. Or make sure other foods are freshly cooked and served hot.

“Consider disinfecting your water: Boil it for at least one minute. Add half an iodine tablet or two drops of household bleach to each liter of water. Or use chlorine tablets.

“Wash fruits and vegetables with clean water. Wash your hands with soap and clean water, especially before handling and eating food and after using the bathroom. If clean water and soap aren’t available, use hand sanitizer made of at least 60 per cent alcohol”.

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