Doctors Without Boarders Collaborate With Journalists To Fight Lassa Fever In Ebonyi

The international medical organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders is encouraging communities to take measures to help prevent Lassa fever by detecting the disease early and by taking preventive hygiene measures.

The MSF Project Coordinator, Mr Elton Mbofana, stated this while interacting with Journalists on the best way to work in Synergy to ensure that Lassa fever is totally eradicated in Ebonyi State, Southeast Nigeria in particular and the country at large.

Mbofana disclosed this during the Press Conference held at the office, the Medicine Sans Frontieres in Abakaliki the State capital. Lassa fever is a contagious disease spread through contact with infected rats and through uncovered food, contaminated with rat faeces or urine. “Prevention and early detection of Lassa fever are key to saving lives.” Mbofana said.

Early diagnosis and treatment can radically increase people’s chances of survival. Over recent years, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), has recorded an increase in cases of Lassa fever. From January to August this year, there were 894 reported cases, compared to 510 cases for the whole of 2021.

So far this year, MSF teams in AE-FUTHA have treated 58 patients for the disease, while also providing them with mental health support and conducting awareness-raising activities in the community.

MSF teams have also responded to emergencies and outbreaks of other diseases in Ebonyi and neighbouring states. There is no vaccine to prevent Lassa fever, while diagnosing the disease is complex and unaffordable for many.

The MSF Project Medical Coordinator, Dr Slaymen Ammar said, “The time between infection and the appearance of symptoms ranges from 3 to 21 days. Lassa fever infects around 300,000 people in west africa each year and causes around 5,000 deaths, with most cases in Nigeria occurring during the dry season from December to March.”

The MSF project medical referent, Dr Slaymen Amma said, “On top of all this, people infected with Lassa fever often suffer stigma because of its association with hunting rats – a common source of food for lower socio-economic groups. The cost of treatment need to be subsidised to ensure that everyone has early access to care, we urge the Nigerian health authorities to improve funding so that treatment of Lassa fever is free of charge and so that staff in health facilities can implement effective infection prevention and control measures.

The main drug used to treat Lassa fever, Ribavirin, is also expensive, putting treatment out of reach for most people across West Africa. Ribavirin needs to be given to patients within six days of being infected and has not been proven effective in randomised controlled trials.

Shortly after the Press Conference, there was a tour of the Alex Ekwueme Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki (AE-FETHA), where the Nursing Activity Manager, Mr Pierre Dianzenza, showed Journalists some health projects where MSF has worked in conjunction with AE-FUTHA to reduce the mortalities associated with Lassa fever.

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