For many years, man has constantly battled against micro-organisms which affect his health and cause illnesses. These micro-organisms are diverse and have varying structures with the viruses emerging as one of the most dangerous. Various epidemics in history such as the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa, the Zika virus epidemic worldwide and the Chikungunya virus outbreak are all attributed to viruses and sadly, history repeats itself as the Lassa hemorrhagic fever currently affects various states in the country and the novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 currently plagues various nations of the world.
Viruses are a class of microbes with sizes even smaller than bacteria, they are sometimes considered not to be living organisms since they require a living host for replication, unlike bacteria that can reproduce and carry out living functions outside their host. Since viruses require a living host for multiplication, they are most times pathogenic because of their negative effects on the normal functioning of human cells. They are difficult to kill because they interfere with normal cellular functioning, that is, killing a virus may also kill the living organism because viruses penetrate cells and use them as means of replication, hence stopping the means of replication involves killing the host cell but in certain cases, selective toxicity may be achieved for some viruses due to identification of specific targets peculiar to the virus alone.
The Coronavirus epidemic which started in Wuhan, a region in China has now spread to over 130 countries around the globe. Funny enough, it is at this moment that one can say there is no place like home. One could even say we have had our fair share of past epidemics, particularly the West African region. Speaking of fair share, the Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria has now affected 23 states in Nigeria with the death toll reaching 144 deaths. The zoonotic disease is endemic in the West African sub-region and outbreaks occur usually in the region. It is transmitted via droppings of infected animal and sanitation measures are strongly advised.
The response by the Nigerian government to the COVID-19 outbreak may be regarded as commendable as efforts put in place have successfully mitigated the outbreak in the country. The past Ebola epidemic may have played a factor in increasing the preparedness for this new outbreak. Measures taken include increased screening at entry points and a public awareness campaign on improved hygiene.
A Coronavirus Preparedness Group has been established and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) supports the activation of emergency operation centers. Diagnosing kits have been obtained, surveillance has been expanded and at least four laboratories have the testing capacity but more efforts still need to be done. Efforts in response to the Lassa fever outbreak include the training of health workers from major treatment centers, improved logistics to ensure a continuous supply of medical necessities and public awareness programs. Extermination of rats and fumigation is expected to be carried out soon in Lagos state.
As much as the measures put in place are effective, proactive measures must be carried out in preventing the spread of diseases in the first place. One such measure includes improvement of public hygiene individually among citizens and generally across the country. The Majority of diseases are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted from animals to humans. Ensuring that the environment is kept clean and surrounding bushes are cut down prevents the habitation of these rodents around houses, hence preventing transmission of diseases. Covering all food either cooked or uncooked ensures that animal droppings do not enter food and infect man. Eating properly cooked food ensures the death of germs and microbes in the food and prevents spread to humans. Proper purification of water before drinking cannot be over-emphasized.
Another preventive measure to be put in place is the funding and improvement of research centers in the country. The improvement and adequate funding of research in the country will go a long way in improving the lives of citizens and scientists can even find a cure for a disease before it breaks out. An improvement in our research institutes can enable and foster environmental monitoring of pathogens, as well as in animals and precautions can be taken to prevent man from getting infected. Increased vaccine production against viruses will help in fighting the disease.
Combating public health crises in Nigeria alone will not be effective unless there are collaborations with other countries in ensuring universal health coverage to rural area residents discouraging unhealthy practices practiced in such areas and the establishment of rapid response teams in case of any breakout.
Nigerians are advised not to panic about the current epidemics in the country and the world at large but to follow precautionary advice by the health organizations and maintain personal hygiene because hopefully, this too shall pass.