Cholera Outbreak: Tale of a Country in the Doldrums

Today’s report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that a new outbreak of cholera has killed 1,555 people in Nigeria is another sorry tale of a country in the doldrums. The current outbreak which has been declared the worst cholera outbreak in Nigeria in recent years has recorded 40,000 cases, three times higher than last year and seven times higher than in 2008. According to the UNICEF report, women and children account for four of every five cases and new cases are still being reported in parts of the country, particularly the northeast.

Cholera is a disease of poverty, poor hygiene, and poor environmental conditions. During epidemics such as the current one, the source of the contamination is often the feces of an infected person, and infections can spread rapidly in areas where there is poor sewage treatment and a lack of clean drinking water. The rapid spread of this outbreak is not surprising given that two-thirds of rural Nigerians lack access to safe drinking water, and fewer than 40 percent of people in affected areas have access “to toilet facilities of any description,” according to the Nigerian Ministry of Health. The situation no doubt would have been exacerbated given the level of poverty with its attendant malnutrition and compromised immunity associated with HIV/AIDS among the Nigerian population. The average Nigerian household also eat together often from the pot thereby increasing household exposure.

With the simple ways of preventing this disease, it is rather sad that a nation with Nigeria’s resources could be experiencing such problems in this day and age. It also has to be remembered that cholera doesn’t always have to be fatal. The poor health infrastructure and limited access to healthcare would no doubt have contributed to the number of fatalities.

It was the late Hubert Ogunde who sang a song “Yoruba Ronu” which literally means Yorubas should stop and ponder. Today it’s Nigeria that needs to stop and ponder. Why should a nation so endowed become one with the dubious distinction of being everything no nation wants to be? This is an appeal to the relevant government agencies to respond to the outbreak with the emergency it deserves, including the rapid vaccination of exposed and at risk population, and long term planning to avoid such outbreaks and attendant loss of lives in the future.

My heart bleeds for Nigeria.

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