Nigeria: Cholera - a Country's Shame

 TWO ignored factors that emphasise governments' insensitivity to Nigerians - overwhelmingly unacceptable sanitary conditions and the abysmally low levels of access to medical services - have helped in the ricocheting cholera outbreaks.

Contaminated water, unhygienic handling and poor food preparations are among factors that aid rapid spread of cholera. Its high mortality rate is evidenced by the number of States reporting deaths.

Access to hygienic drinking water in Nigeria is limited by low investment in the sector, drought, and poor plan that have seen demand for water outstrip supply for years. Cholera benefits from these, and Nigeria's public health system that is totally reactive. The health authorities pay minimal attention to preventive medicine. Even when they have advance notice of epidemics, they ignore them.

Cholera is not a tropical disease. Low standards of hygiene and quality of drinking water make it prevalent in the tropics, parts of Asia and the Americas. In the 19th century, cholera outbreaks were common in the United States of America and Britain. Improvements in health standards, particularly drinking water and the availability of flushing toilets have distanced human waste - a great source of the disease - from water sources and made cholera a rarity in those regions.

Areas where flooding destroys toilet facilities and inject their contents into public water sources are prone to cholera. It is little wonder that the disease has facility to spread in Nigeria. In many places, water for domestic use is contaminated by poorly disposed human wastes.

Yet cholera, according to the World Health Organisation, WHO, "is an easily treatable disease. The prompt administration of oral rehydration salts to replace lost fluids nearly always results in cure. In especially severe cases, intravenous administration of fluids may be required to save the patient's life. Left untreated, however, cholera can kill quickly following the onset of symptoms."

Water management is critical. While routine preaching about use of safe water persists, the reality is that millions of Nigerians lack access to clean water. It is advisable that they boil their water, and avoid ice blocks that could have been made with water from doubtful sources. The cholera bacteria are known to survive the freezing process. Food needs to be cooked properly and human waste disposed in ways that would not contaminate water sources.

The good, old benefits of washing hands after using toilets are still important to curtail the spread of cholera and other diseases. Governments, however, must ask themselves how they spend the billions of Naira they budget for health annually. It is a shame that in the 21st Century, hundreds of our people die from preventable causes while governments tally the numbers and gleefully announce the statistics.

 Culled from allAfrica

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