Why throwing money at Lassa fever is not a sustainable solution

Yesterday, the Federal Government allotted N140 million to the fight against Lassa fever in Nigeria. So far, 43 people have died in about ten states in Nigeria including Edo, Abuja, Oyo, Nasarawa and Gombe.

The N140 million fund will be directed at containing the deadly disease, further preventing a nationwide epidemic. According to Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, N140 million is the amount required to launch a response to Lassa fever in the country, while previously stocked drugs will also help to manage the resources that the government already has. Speaking at a press briefing in Abuja, he further stated that the situation can be managed within the budget of the health ministry and that there is no cause for alarm. His statement was supported by the Minister for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who was also present at the briefing.

While the Federal Government’s decision to allocate funds is on the right track, the fund still isn’t enough to manage the Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria. Every year, West Africa records between 100,000 and 300, 000 cases of Lassa fever, which is endemic to the region, yet, so far, there have only been 5,000 deaths. However, these deaths can be avoided by implementing and sustaining preventive measures. The World Health Organisation (WHO) proposes promoting good community hygiene and the use of Ribavirin – an antiviral drug, to start with.

Dr. Femi Adebayo of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) observes that the Nigerian government is usually concerned with attempting to control epidemic breakouts when appropriating funds, rather than ensuring that there is a sustainable flow of funds to prevent recurrence. According to him, there should be a consistency in funding the National Centre for Disease Control.

This is not the first time that the Nigerian Federal Government is dealing with Lassa fever, In 2012, Nigeria recorded 112 deaths from 1,723 cases of the disease. Yet, in spite of previous encounters, the government doesn’t seem to be getting better at how they approach medical training and response, as well as sensitisation of the general public. In addition, environmental sanitation and proper waste management remain an unresolved issue.

The Federal Government needs to assume a more spirited stance if it plans on achieving elimination of life-threatening diseases. Especially those such as Lassa fever, which remain difficult to diagnose.

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