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If coronavirus manifests, we catch it immediately — Ehanire, Health Minister

Africa Nigeria

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By Olayinka Ajayi

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, shares his perspectives on coronavirus and Lassa Fever. He spoke before the index case of coronavirus was recorded in Nigeria last week.

The situation with Lasa Fever, where are we?

Where we are is that people now have a better understanding of it, we know the vector which is rodents. We know it is a virus that belongs to the viral emoragi fevers. What is coming up is that the mortality rate is dropping because we are having a better understanding of it. The fatality rate some couple of years ago was 30 percent , now it is 15 percent. And for some reasons, the centers are in Ondo, Edo and Ebonyi ,

It seems it is a recurring event. Do we have a policy in this regard?

It is endemic. It means that it is there all-year-round especially during dry season when rats find no food in the bush, so they start finding there way into houses, dropping urine in unprotected foods. But there’s a lot of study going on, we have virologists studying. we have high cases during dry season.

What’s the actual cause of it? Some argue it’s personal hygiene.

You are perfectly correct. Hygiene and some kind of behaviour; obviously if you have rodents in your house,you have a problem of hygiene and sanitation. Rats should not be able to enter anybody’s house easily. Even if they get in, they should not be able to have access to your food. So, yes, hygiene, personal hygiene, domestic hygiene, food hygiene, environmental hygiene play a big role in curtailing this disease.

You earlier talked about a vaccine as a measure….

That’s correct, there’s a vaccine being developed, although it is still away from being used but trials have started. It is being worked on where Lassa patients are being treated in Federal Teaching Hospital Iwoha. So there’s hope that we shall be able to have a vaccine soon.

Given the fact that many victims come in directly to medical personnel, do these personnels have protection?

Yes, this is just a disease that has a lot of human-to-human transmission apart from the fact that it is contracted from animals. The importance of protective equipment is highly rated for those who work in treatment centers. You know that Lassa is treated in hospital in designated areas and workers have to follow very strict protocol on protective equipment.

How far have we gone because we gathered that some doctors are asking for special remuneration?

The standard of handling a patient is very well known but when you are handling infectious cases, it is a different protocol and, more often than not, when a patient comes to see a doctor, the doctor is not thinking that it is an infectious disease, until signs begin to show. If you look at what happened in Kano the other day when young doctors who were busy doing their work saw a patient they thought required caesarian section, their minds didn’t go to the fact that the patient could be infected, so they became unfortunately infected with Lassa performing that operation.

The other big thing going on internationally is coronavirus. Can you enlighten us on this?

The first area is the airport because it is the main port of entry at the moment. Seaports and land borders are extremely unlikely in this case. So we are focusing on the five international airports in Nigeria. And protocols have been set up there to scan every passenger who comes in, and then invite anyone who is not looking too well for an interview, take his or her travel history to learn where has been to. If there’s any reason for suspicion, he will be immediately be tested. We have agents that test the virus. So we can now do the test. We don’t have to send samples out and, if the patient does not look sick , they will be put on what we call self-isolation in their homes, we take their phone numbers, we also give them a number to call within a period of 14 days to let us know that they are fine and, if they do not call, we call them to be sure that within that period of incubation that they are well. After that,they can go about their businesses.

Is it an issue of self-quarantine?

I wouldn’t call it self-quarantine. I call it isolation because if you come from a place that has a particular disease, you keep away from people and crowded places. The point in that is that the patient does not need to be held in hospital. You just keep away from where it could manifest. In many cases, it does not manifest but if it does, we catch it immediately.

As things stand today, how prepared are our primary health care centres in addressing related issues?

Primary health care center is very special to this administration program. Because it is the only area you can attend to the largest number of people with the largest burdens. If we have a very functional primary health care system, we believe we can manage 50 to 60 percent of health burdens that plague our country and Nigeria will be much better off with our indices, but the primary health sector needs to be set up, we are in that process. At the moment, 40 percent of them are functional. In design, and we want a primary health care center that works round the clock and not just from 8 am till 5 0′ clock. That means providing light, water and complementary staff and staff quarters that can go on shift. With that, you can attend to patients when they are sick and create a supply chain  of all they need to be operational. So primary health care will reduce the pressure on tertiary hospitals. In any case, it is supposed to be a follow-up by to secondary health care system which is not in a good shape.

*Interview first aired on Channels Television.

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