The increasing reports of cholera outbreaks with attendant loss of lives in some parts of the country call for urgent action from the nation’s health authorities. Nigeria must move swiftly to stop the spread of the disease. Within the past two weeks, no fewer than 12 people were reported to have died of cholera in Anambra State; 20 succumbed to the ailment in two local government areas in Bayelsa State, while another 20 died in some communities in Andoni Local Government Area of Rivers State.
According to the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Sampson Parker, 170 patients are being treated while officials of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Federal Ministry of Health are assisting the victims in the affected communities.
The reports of cholera casualties in the country are becoming increasingly worrisome. Medical experts define cholera as a highly infectious disease that causes severe diarrhea, dehydration and death. It is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water that has been contaminated with the bacterium, vibrio cholerae. The disease has a short incubation period, from less than one day to five days. It causes very watery stools that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if not promptly treated. Cholera mostly occurs in communities with poor access to safe drinking water and inadequate sewage treatment system.
It is more common in developing countries like Nigeria where potable water is a luxury and haphazardly distributed. Since its discovery in 1883 by a German bacteriologist, Robert Koch (1843-1910), the disease has led to the death of so many people in the developing countries. According to a 2010 report, cholera has affected about 3-5 million people and kills between 100,000 and 130,000 people yearly globally.
Available WHO statistics show that more than 70 percent of cholera cases are recorded in Africa, Mexico and few parts of Asia. In 2013, Nigeria recorded not less than 623 cases with reported 86 deaths. Zamfara State, with 1,110 cases and five deaths, had the highest incidence of the disease in the country, while Oyo State, with 29 cases and six deaths, had the lowest. The 2010 cholera epidemic is regarded as the worst in Nigeria since 1991. It recorded about 6,400 cases in 12 of the 36 states of the federation with 352 deaths.
What these figures indicate is the need to move fast to contain the current outbreak. As explained by medical experts, cholera epidemics occur where there are significant breaches in the water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure used by groups of people, thus leading to large scale exposure to food or water contaminated with vibrio cholerae. The disease can also be contracted through the faecal-oral route via contaminated food, carriers of the infection and inadequate sanitary conditions of the environment. However, the principal mode of transmission remains the ingestion of contaminated water or food.
Since the disease thrives in places where water sources are compromised, government at all levels must work in concert to ensure that all Nigerians have access to potable water. Good drinking water should not be a luxury. It is a necessity. It is, therefore, unfortunate that most Nigerians in both urban and rural areas still lack potable water.
Since outbreaks of the disease occur in Nigeria virtually every year, there is the need for sustained public education on its prevention . Nigerians should also ensure that they do everything within their power to drink only potable water. Seafood, especially those eaten raw and undercooked, as well as fruits and raw vegetables are other veritable sources of the cholera infection that the public should take note of. Fruits and vegetables should be properly washed before consumption. The outbreak of the disease also calls for increased personal hygiene and public health consciousness.
Let Nigerians form the habit of washing their hands frequently, especially after using the toilet. Indiscriminate disposal of faeces should be checked by the relevant health authorities while emphasis must be placed on the construction and maintenance of sewage systems. The reintroduction of sanitary inspectors should be considered as it will go a long way in improving environmental sanitation and reducing cholera epidemics in the country. Above all, the federal, state and local governments should promote hygiene and increase the supply of clean drinking water to all parts of the country.