Lassa Fever: Delayed test results affecting action in Ondo, Delta

• Southern States At Mercy Of Irrua Specialist Hospital

Testing and confirmation of Lassa fever cases in Ondo and Delta States are proving difficult due to the over-stretched capacity of Irrua Specialist Hospital, Edo, the only place with the capacity to carry out tests in the entire southern part of Nigeria. Apart from Edo, Ondo and Delta are the two other southern states currently battling the virus.

Those facts were revealed at an emergency meeting held in Abuja, where the Delta State Health Commissioner, Nicholas Azinge, spoke of delay in receiving results of laboratory samples sent to Irrua.He said the state had only three confirmed cases of Lassa fever, while 24 are under surveillance. “Five of the 24 are staff of the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba. One of the three confirmed cases is dead. One has been discharged. The other is receiving treatment.”

A source at the Ondo Ministry of Health told The Guardian: “When tests are sent to Irrua, the state has to wait for 72 hours for confirmation. This is slowing down treatment.”

Noting that Lassa fever occurs frequently in Ondo, the source said there is need for another laboratory in the state and in other southern parts of the country. “During the 72 hours wait, the patient could die because you can’t start Lassa fever treatment without a confirmation.”

At the meeting in Abuja, Ondo State commissioner, Wahab Adegbenro, said the most affected parts in the state are local government councils that share borders with Edo State, leading to suspicion that the cases are from Edo. Such local councils include Akure South, Akure North, Owo, Ose, and Akoko South. Adegbenro also noted that Ondo has had 114 suspected cases, out of which 43 were confirmed positive, with 10 deaths.

In a broadcast recently, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu confirmed that the tests are being carried out at Irrua and that the state has dedicated a vehicle for transporting samples to the hospital.At the National Council on Health meeting, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, blamed poor preparation and slow intervention by state governments for the current spread of Lassa fever and other public health challenges.

He said Nigeria must build on the feat achieved in the fight against Ebola to fight Lassa fever and other diseases. He lamented the failure of most states to take prompt action, disclosing that few had surveillance teams to look out for the disease until causalities were recorded and the federal government stepped in.

He said: “We knew there were going to be cases of Lassa fever in the country and the Federal Ministry of Health started preparation since March 2017. Materials and training courses were given to states as at June and August. And by December, we had written advisory letters to the states.

“It is sad that in spite of all the effort, we still failed. That is why we called this meeting. Why should we have lots of casualties? This is the failure of the commissioners to notify their governors on the need for preparation and early detection in each state.”Edo State Commissioner of Health, David Osifo, said the state recorded 56 confirmed cases of Lassa fever out of 249 suspected instances. He said the governor, Godwin Obaseki, released N100 million as first tranche for the procurement of equipment to fight the disease.

Speaking on the poor laboratory capacity in the country, foremost virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, expressed alarm that only two or three laboratories are capable of diagnosing Lassa fever in Nigeria.“We are far from providing rapid diagnostic confirmation for Lassa fever cases. Most of the samples collected from patients are tested in Irrua. Getting samples to Irrua is a difficult venture and experience,” he said.

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Lassa feverNicholas Azinge
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