Cholera: Appreciating WHO’s Response To Outbreaks

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A cholera patient receiving treatment in the North East. Source: Reuters

Established in 1948, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN) which priority is public health; contributing to promoting a healthy population across the world.
WHO engages in tackling health crisis among member-states of UN of which Nigeria is a member.
Nigeria is a direct beneficiary of the activities of WHO and particularly the north eastern part of Nigeria, where millions were affected by the insurgency, has been singled out for specific intervention.
Cholera is one of the health challenges being tackled by WHO in the area which is prone to epidemics in view of the current challenges.
So far, more than 377, 000 people have benefitted from the first ever cholera vaccination campaign in Adamawa State, facilitated by WHO.
Of recent, the frontline states of north eastern Nigeria, comprising Adamawa, Borno and Yobe recovering from the crisis resulting from the insurgency have had to battle cholera epidemic.
This has prompted WHO and other partners to respond to the challenges of containing the fatality of the epidemic.
In Adamawa, particularly in Mubi area, the timely intervention of WHO-coordinated response to the outbreak of cholera in May, when health workers were on strike, was the stitch in time that really saved many lives by bringing the fatality ratio of the epidemic from 17 per cent to 2.2 per cent.
WHO engaged 39 health workers on ad hoc arrangement to support the immediate response to the outbreak pending when the strike was called off.
The organisation also engaged 107 Community Health Champions (CHC) for house-to-house case search, risk communication, aqua tab distribution and referral of suspected cases for treatment.
Mobile health teams were also deployed to conduct household disinfection of suspected cholera cases.
The WHO’s Mid-Year Report for 2018 indicated that health workers were also engaged by the organisation to geo-coordinate mapping which enabled focused intervention, including disinfecting localised neigbourhoods in Mubi.
To further stem the outbreak which affected Mubi North, Mubi South, Maiha and Hong Local Government Areas of Adamawa, WHO not only activated an Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for partners coordination and rapid decision making, it also provided technical supervision for the chlorination of water sources mainly responsible for the outbreak.
In Borno State where the epidemic occured in Kukawa Local Government Area in February, WHO deployed its mobile health team that facilitated early detection and prompt intervention.
As a result of this strategy, 679 cases were detected and treated and as such the Kukawa outbreak was restricted to the vicinity of the town.
In Yobe State, the outbreak occurred in March in Gashua town of Bade Local Government Area where the WHO-trained Rapid Response Team swiftly responded.
The state ministry of health in collaboration with WHO and other partners contained the outbreak which affected 404 people.
Yobe officially declared the outbreak over in June following this concerted response.
Appreciating the interventions from WHO and other partners in containing the cholera outbreak in Adamawa, the state Commissioner of Health, Dr Fatima Atiku, who noted the deadly nature of the epidemic said the collaborative effort was commendable.
She appreciated the benefit of collaborating with WHO in enhancing the health sector capacity in handling outbreaks and control of health challenges.
Atiku noted the engagement of volunteers and town announcers for effective community sensitisation and health education on cholera prevention, engagement of disease surveillance and notification officers for active case finding and surveillance.
She observed that setting up of active toll-free lines for prompt feedback from the public on any observed symptoms related to cholera and other public health issues were some of the many measures supported by WHO in containing the cholera epidemic.
“As a result of this collaborative effort, the case fatality ratio of the outbreak which was 17 per cent as at May 12 was drastically reduced to 1.8 per cent as at June 1.
“Nigeria, no doubt, sincerely appreciates the efforts of our development partners, volunteers and health workers who dedicated their lives to save others affected by the outbreak,’’ Atiku said.
The Director of Public Health in the Adamawa State Ministry of Health who is also the Head of the Emergency Operation Centre, Dr Bwalki Dilli, urged the public to strictly observe cholera preventive and control measures such as drinking clean water and hygienically prepared food intake, hygiene promotion, hand washing with soap and water after defecation and before eating as a lasting solution.
“Media practitioners are also encouraged to scale up broadcast of health promotion messages and programmes that will educate the people on imbibing healthy lifestyle,’’ Dilli said.
A former WHO Country Representative in Nigeria, Mr Wondimagegnehu Alemu, in his message contained in the organisation’s mid-year report of 2018, noted that the humanitarian crisis in the north east caused by Boko Haram insurgency has continued to make the population vulnerable to disease outbreaks.
He assured the public that WHO would continue to do its best in line with its vision of ensuring access to healthcare by all despite the challenges.
“Although, funds received for planned activities in the first half of 2018 were scarcely enough, WHO continues to appreciate the governments of Nigeria, Japan, Germany, South Korea, among others and agencies like ECHO, USAID, CERF, OFDA and CIDA that have remained steadfast with funding its emergency operations in Nigeria.
“It is, therefore, crucial that donors and partners continue to support WHO to enable comprehensive delivery of life-saving interventions to populations in need,’’ Alemu said.
Indeed, being at the centre of steady improvement in public health, WHO really deserves all the support it can get to continue the humanitarian work in the north eastern part of Nigeria and beyond.
“WHO’s work is about serving people; about serving humanity. It’s about serving people regardless of where they live; be it in developing or developed countries, small islands or big nations, urban or rural settings,” said its Director General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, while stressing the unique role of the organisation in impacting positively on public health.
With this feat, public analysts note that WHO has lived up to this vision as witnessed in north eastern Nigeria.
Uba writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.