Era of self medication for fever is gone
National Coordinator/CEO, NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu In this chat with Edoamaowo Udeme, the National Coordinator/CEO of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, an experienced epidemiologist, explains the Centre’s role in prevention, detection and response to infectious diseases in the country. Excerpts: The NCDC was established in 2011 it is a fairly new parastatal and we have a team of epidemiologists and microbiologists these are specialists in infectious diseases that are able to advice the government, people and professionals of the risk and dangers of infectious diseases, on how to detect and respond to them.
Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu
The Agency was unknown to most Nigerians until the Ebola outbreak in 2014- 2015. We led the coordination of a response in Lagos and Rivers States. We coordinated with the states and that is really when the awareness of this agency came to the fore but while Ebola was the biggest outbreak, the truth of the matter is that we deal with outbreaks every week.
Role of NCDC
Our role is to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease or diseases of public health, the one that we are dealing with at the moment that has caused us a lot of work is Lassa fever. It belongs to a group of disease known as viral hemorrhagic fevers. Why Lassa is very important is that about 40- 50 per cent of the victims can die from it so it is very important that diagnosis is made early.
First, it is very important that we inform the public about the danger and how to prevent the disease, but when they do get it, it is important they are diagnosed earlier and access treatment, so that was why we invited the Press. We take the Press seriously in its ability to reach most Nigerians on issues of importance to us. Other diseases Some others include Cerebro-Spinal Meningitis which we have a few cases in the North West of Nigeria at the moment, where we have a team right now who is supporting the response, there are always clusters of Cholera in certain states especially in Kano and Lagos. Really many of these diseases can be prevented by taking very simple measures so we try to get this message across to both members of the public and professionals for them to know what to do and how to tackle it. Early warning measures
Let’s take Lassa fever and deal with early warning because it’s very important because Lassa Fever despite the high case fatality ratio that is the number of people that could possibly die when infected, Lassa can be treated if it’s diagnosed early, so we are very keen on increasing our capacity to detect, treat patients and prevent further transmission. So the message really has been when you have a patient with fever, to make sure that you explore the more common causes of fever in our environment. One of those would be malaria. There is a rapid diagnostic test for malaria but we are trying to inform Nigerians that the era where you had a fever and just take a self medication is gone.
It is very dangerous because if it’s not malaria and you keep treating malaria, it could be Lassa fever and you are not being treated for it, you could end up with a terrible outcome. Key message The key message this year is there is a rapid diagnosis for malaria, people should use it before getting treated so that if it’s not malaria, the doctors can then look at another cause of your illness and there is a possibility that it could be Lassa. The other thing is that health professionals should start thinking about Lassa very early. The earlier they make the diagnosis the better for all of us so we have been encouraging them to test early for Lassa and let us know through their states epidemiologists which we have in every state.
We have a call centre with a toll free number; we are on social media there are so many ways to reach us Success with Ebola With the Ebola outbreak major role we played was managing what we call the emergency operation centre, which we quickly established in Lagos at what is currently the central public health lab. Obviously we didn’t do this alone; we collaborated with several other partners including the Lagos State government, members of the private sector, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital.
Our role is always to provide expertise and to coordinate so by bringing this expertise together with the international partners like WHO, UNICEF and others, we pulled those resources together and allocate them appropriately to all the aspects of the response. Epidemiologists The important thing to know is that there is a group of colleagues called the Nigerian Field Epidemiology training programme supported and managed through NCDC where we have epidemiologists that have been trained for over ten years throughout the country so whenever there is an outbreak we pull everybody together and the support the work we do so when we are done, they return to their various bases. That is probably one of the biggest successes we have as an Agency.