Cholera outbreak: Why Lagos won’t be in panic mode



By Segun Ajayi

It crept in like the biblical “thief in the night” whose mission was to afflict, maim and destroy. Double-faced like Janus, the mythical Roman god of beginnings, cholera strikes with two lethal weapons and leaves in its trail sorrow, tears and wailing. Given the speed with which cholera kills, even the intrepid would be rattled. But for Lagos, a formidable state with rich pedigree for emergencies handling, cholera is the proverbial affliction that must not strike the second time.

Juxtaposed that with the manner Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his team have distinguished themselves in containing disease outbreaks, one needs no further conviction cholera, however hydra-headed will be conquered like scourges before it. In truth, a lamely reactive state would have been left prostrate by the outbreak of cholera in some parts of the state two weeks ago. That the state is vulnerable to epidemics is a given owing to its dense population and pressures on its environment.

In the same measure, her resilience against afflictions and epidemics have also been proven over time. We can recall how Ebola attack was checked even though at an inestimable cost. COVID 19 pandemic could have taken a larger toll had the state not been proactive in curbing it. Given this trajectory and the fact that health and environment are formidable components of the Sanwo-Olu T.H.E.M.E+ agenda, rather than go into panic mode after it became common knowledge that Lagos was among the states affected by cholera, government squared up to the challenge. Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi on June 11 admitted the presence of the disease and started reeling out the figures from day one.

Creating awareness, sensitisation, contact tracing and identifying high risk areas were government’s initial strategies in repelling cholera attack. Just like the Federal Government did with the  multi-sectorial Presidential Task Force (PTF) for coronavirus control in 2020, Lagos State activated the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre (PHEOC) with the mandate to address severe gastroenteritis cases across state, provide updates including fatalities, suspected and confirmed cases. The PHEOC drew personnel from the ministries of health, environment and water resources,  education and information.

From the last update which reported 401 cases and 15 fatalities, suspected cases of cholera have risen to about 579 with 29 fatalities at the time of filing in this report. The figures were confirmed by the commissioner at a recent press conference in Lagos even as he blamed recent deaths on delayed presentation of patients at the hospitals. During the briefing, the commissioner encouraged Lagosians to take advantage of free treatment of cholera at government hospitals immediately they notice the symptoms.

He reiterated that high prone areas include communities in Eti Osa, Kosofe, Lagos Island and Ikorodu local government areas.

Abayomi’s view on downward slope of the infection curve was corroborated by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Health, Dr. Kemi Ogunyemi, who said that the cases spiked over 500 over the weekend and the casualties have so far risen to 29. The spike, according to her, should not send jitters into Lagosians as it was anticipated. The Eid-el-Kabir festivities and the merriments that went with it could have triggered the figure. “The 500 plus figure was arrived at from additional suspected cases picked from here and there. If we look at the figures cumulatively, it is up to 500, but not all additional cases are confirmed yet. But looking at the trend in terms of new cases, it’s going down, it’s not going up”, she said.

Meanwhile, the state has remained focused by sensitizing Lagosians about preventive measures. Given the fact that cholera vaccines are being awaited, the state health and hygiene advisories had  come in handy. At some points, government’s resilience was tested amidst calls by some residents that schools should not reopen after Salah holiday over fears of escalation of attacks. Government acted swiftly by deploying its resource persons to allay such fears. A renowned epidemiologist, preventive health specialist, and member of the PHEOC, Dr. Ismail Abdul Salam while speaking on a Lagos- radio station as part of government sensitisation efforts noted that closure of schools was not the immediate antidote. According to him, if parents remain indifferent to personal and environmental hygiene and fail to teach their children, keeping children at home would be inconsequential. As long as the schools are sensitised about safety directives, there was no reason to panic, he assured.

He then highlighted some of the health advisories, noting the first red flag is when the patient begins to vomit. Such patients must head to the nearest hospital even as he encouraged them to take advantage of the ongoing free treatment of cholera in public health facilities in Lagos to cure themselves.

In addition to personal and environment hygiene of which constant hand washing, safe water, modern toilet facilities and constant waste disposal were paramount, government have also strengthened liasons with public schools.

Abdul-Salam also explained how government acted through relevant agencies in charge of public schools by deploying environmental Health personnel to monitor adherence safety and preventive measures. They include but not limited to ensuring availability of safe drinking water, re-introduction of hand washing, daily checks on pupils for early signs of contraction of the dreaded disease. Given cholera’s high communicable behaviour, Abdul-Salam urged respective school management bodies to keep a tab on food vendors considering their importance to the school system. Finally, he advised schools to place on stand by, Oral Rehydration Liquid (ORT) in case of emergency.

According to the World Health Organisation, cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. On cholera causes and transmission, Abayomi disclosed that cholera is caused by contaminated water and food and transmission common in areas with inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation, and insufficient hygiene.

He said that common symptoms include severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, thirst and muscle cramps. “Symptoms can appear within a few hours to five days after infection”, he warned.

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