No fewer than 15 health workers in Zamfara State have been infected with the Type C meningitis in Skinkafi and Zumi local government areas of the state. The two local governments are among the worst hit by the epidemic, which has infected over 3,000 persons and killed over 350 since December 2016.
Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina states are the most affected states, with Zamfara State alone recording over 200 deaths from the disease’s outbreak in the last few months. In separate visits to some hospitals in Shinkafi and Zumi by one of our correspondents, it was gathered that about 15 health
workers had contracted the disease during the treatment of patients.
Some of the health workers who spoke with Saturday PUNCH said they got infected from treating victims of the disease without proper safety measures. One of the affected workers, who pleaded anonymity because of fear of victimisation, said the hospital facilities were overstretched and that they did not have enough personnel to handle the number of patients that came for treatment.
At Shinkafi General Hospital, one of our correspondents observed as one of the health workers was reprimanded by a senior colleague for touching one of the patients in the meningitis ward without wearing protective gloves.
“It is not our fault. Most of us here who attend to meningitis patients do so without using protective hand gloves and face mask because there are not enough to go round. At times, we take self-precaution on our own by using hand sanitisers after touching sick patients,” said one of the hospital workers.
A health worker at the Primary Health Care Centre in Zumi Local Government Area also said, “We are putting our lives at risk here, but we don’t have enough personnel to do the job. A nurse who was infected is currently under treatment, but she is still treating and taking care of the sick patients.”
The acting Chief Nursing Officer at the Shinkafi General Hospital declined to speak with our correspondent on the issue and also on the number of cases recorded in the hospital.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that the Chief Nursing Officer was currently on sick leave.
When contacted, the Director of Public Health in the state, Dr. Habibu Yelwa, said he was not in a position to speak on the matter.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and the National Association of Resident Doctors have raised the alarm over poor awareness of meningitis among Nigerians.
They also blamed the Federal Government over its handling of the epidemic, which has spread across 16 states and killed about 350.
The Federal Government had on Wednesday admitted to being caught off guard by the outbreak.
The President, Nigerian Medical Association, Prof. Mike Ogirima, in a statement to commemorate the World Health Day on Friday, condemned the reactive measures by the government on the epidemic, adding that it was embarrassing that the epidemic caught the country unawares.
He said ineffective immunisation had also contributed to the spread, noting that for immunisation to be effective, it must have been administered around three months before the period of clinical manifestation due to the latent period.
“There is lack of awareness programme on the epidemic. We call on the government to ensure massive public enlightenment programmes to our populace which will go a long way to prevent the spread of all communicable diseases,” he added.
In a communiqué — titled, “Changing tactics in the management of recurrent meningitis fatality” — issued and signed by the President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Mr. Ahmed Yakasai, the society said it was alarmed at the outbreak of the disease, which has claimed several lives, especially in the North.
The society said the epidemic could have been avoided if the Federal Government had taken the country’s health care management seriously.
He said, “Our observation is that the avoidable fatalities in the vicious cycle of meningitis fatality over the years are fallouts of wretched medicine management and protocols, especially in the area of immunisation.
“Moving forward as a fortified health system, Nigeria must change its approach to the totality of immunisation procedures by opening its borders of restrictions to permit Community Pharmacists to conduct routine immunisation against all killer childhood diseases in public interest.”
Similarly, the President, Association of Resident Doctors, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Taofeek Akinniyi, described as appalling the rate at which the condition had spread to many states and killed many people.
He said being a preventable disease, awareness would have helped to avert some of the deaths.
He added, “Aggressive awareness on the part of states and the Federal Government; educating people on the early signs, letting them know there is a vaccine that can be taken to prevent it, especially people living in high risk areas, among other things, would have averted some of the deaths we recorded.”
Meanwhile, experts have advised people intending to travel to any of the meningitis-affected states to get vaccination before embarking on the trip.
The immediate past Head of Training/ Acting Director, Medical Laboratory Science, University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State, Mrs. Modupe Anifowose, said in an interview with one of our correspondents on the sidelines of the induction of 78 newly qualified medical laboratory scientists of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology’s College of Health Sciences in Osogbo, Osun State, that it was advisable to get vaccinated before travelling.
She said, “In the North, possibly because there is the issue of internally displaced persons, caused by the Boko Haram insurgency, this must have contributed to the spread of the epidemic.
“Generally speaking, when you have displacement of people and they are not in a normal environment where they can get health facilities or don’t have good environmental sanitation and personal hygiene, it could lead to spread of diseases.”
Also, the Chairman, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, Osun State chapter, Dr. Oyebola Adeosun, called on the Federal Government to make funds and facilities available to medical laboratory scientists and other researchers on the production of vaccines to prevent the disease.