PRESS BRIEFING BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT, DR MOHAMMAD MAHMOOD ABUBAKAR ON THE ON-GOING LASSA FEVER OUTBREAK IN NIGERIA
I am delighted to welcome you all to this vitally important Press Briefing which is intended to sensitize the Media and the general public on the current disturbing Lassa fever outbreak in the country.
2.As you are very much aware, Nigeria is currently experiencing lassa fever outbreak in several parts of the country with reported cases of fatalities. Latest report from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) released on 25th January 2020 has it that 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths have been recorded in 11 States of Nigeria namely: Edo, Ondo, Ebonyi, Delta, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, Ogun, Abia, Kano and Enugu. Out of the confirmed cases, 89% are from Ondo, Edo and Ebonyi States. It is against this background that the Federal Ministry of Environment is organising this Press Briefing to respond to the increasing number of lassa fever cases across the country, sensitize the general public on lassa fever preventive and control measures to avert further outbreak and spread, as well as efforts being made by the Ministry in collaboration with NCDC and other stakeholders in tackling the lassa fever scourge.
3.Gentlemen of the Press, Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria and often associated with poor sanitary hygiene practices with cases being recorded all year round. The Lassa fever virus is transmitted by rodents (rats) which can be found in our environment including homes, motor parks, offices and even places of worship . This contributes largely to the risk of spread that occurs in Nigeria and other countries with similar ecological factors.
4.Lassa Fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness. It is transmitted to humans through contact with food or household items contaminated with rodents (rat) urine or faeces. It can also be transmitted from person to person through contact with blood, urine, faeces and other body fluids of an infected person.
5.Early symptoms are fever, headache, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, sore throat etc. It is in very severe cases that the patient bleeds from body openings. The maturity period of lassa fever ranges from 6-21 days.
6.Before the recent outbreak, the Ministry has taken proactive measures to improve the overall general sanitation and hygiene situation in the country. The Ministry in 2019 established Sanitation Desks in all the 36 states of the country and these sanitation desk officers are to coordinate sanitation and related activities within their states, liaise with their respective Local Government Environment Departments and report back to the Federal Ministry of Environment. They are also expected to monitor and report lassa fever cases and other environmental determinants of diseases to the Federal Ministry of Environment headquarters. The Sanitation Desks are to be replicated in all 774 LGAs in the country.
7. In 2019 the Federal Ministry of Environment with the support of World Health Organisation (WHO) and in collaboration with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) carried out environmental sanitation response activities to lassa fever outbreak in Edo and Ondo States. Activities undertaken include rodents’ control (deratization), sensitization/education of community members on lassa fever prevention/control measures, premises inspection, distribution of fumigation equipment and chemicals, waste bins and rodent traps.
8.Recently, officers of the Ministry and of the NCDC were on a phone-in program at Radio Nigeria on Saturday 25th January, 2020 to sensitize the public on the lassa fever outbreak as well as create awareness on preventive and control measures. However this sensitization will be a continuous exercise and will be taken down to the grassroots such as local communities, mosques, churches, markets, schools, motor parks, restaurants/hotels and to any place where there are likelihood of large gathering.
9.Gentlemen of the press, ladies and gentlemen, let me use this opportunity to inform you that the Ministry has directed all Environmental Health professionals in the Federal, State and Local Government to immediately re-embark on the following:
i. Massive Awareness Campaign on the need to keep the environment clean.
ii. Environmental Health Surveillance of Premises to identify rodents’ harbourage, destroy/eradicate rodents in homes, commercial and industrial premises
iii. Effective Pest and Vector Control services in residential and commercial premises – notably, Deratization of market places and homes.
iv. Development of Sanitary means and facilities for drying of food cereals, legumes and tubers to ward off their invasion by rodents
10.These strategies shall be deployed and the Environmental Health Council of Nigeria is to monitor compliance and report back to the Ministry.
11.The Ministry is putting in place Environmental Health and sanitation surveillance system. This surveillance system will strengthen the cooperation between the State and Federal Government on Environmental Health and Sanitation issues. It will also help in information/data gathering and sharing between the Federal, State and Local Governments.
12.The Ministry through Environmental Health Registration Council of Nigeria (EHORECON) is also organizing capacity development programme on Entomology and Public Health Pest control to study more especially those rodents of Public Health importance in order to control them.
13. Meanwhile, citizens are advised to imbibe good sanitation and hygiene practices and take preventive and control measures that include:
• Keeping the environment clean to avoid contact with rodents;
• Keeping food away from rodents;
• Storing grains and other food stuff in rodent proof containers;
• Disposing wastes regularly and far away from home;
• Cooking all foods thoroughly;
• Blocking rat hide outs;
• To avoid/stop eating rats as much as possible;
• Washing hands regularly with soap and running water;
• Using protective equipment e.g. masks, gloves, gowns etc. in healthcare centre and when caring for the sick.
14.Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, I want to use this opportunity to assure the general public that the Ministry remains committed to ensuring a clean and healthy environment for all Nigerians. I therefore call on all members of the public to keep their surroundings clean and be vigilant.
15. l also urge all media organisations as partners in progress, to join the Federal Ministry of Environment, NCDC and other stakeholders in fighting the scourge of lassa fever by informing, sensitizing and educating the public on preventive and control measures.
16. Thank you for your attention.
Dr Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar
Hounourable Minister of Environment
January 27, 2020