The Federal Government has blamed poor response from state governments for the spread of Lassa fever from 10 to 17 states in the country.
The Federal Government accused some states of hiding some suspected cases in their states while some others failed to take proactive measures to follow up patients.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said this in Abuja during the emergency National Council on Health meeting on Lassa fever outbreak on Tuesday.
Adewole, identified Ebonyi State as one of those that did not inform the Federal Government about some cases.
The minister also told the council of a patient referred from Ebonyi State to Irrua Specialist Hospital in Edo State for treatment, who he said, absconded with a relative.
He directed that the patient should be traced and treated.
The minister told the 418 delegates that the United Nations Children Fund would support with more ribavirin medication to treat persons suffering from the disease.
He expressed surprise that many Nigerians had refused to believe that the epidemic was real.
Adewole said, “Ordinarily, we would not have called this meeting. We are worried and we should be worried. This is why this meeting is important. This battle is not for us alone. It is a nationwide exercise.”
He thereafter named renowned virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, as the Chairman of the 19-man committee set up by the Federal Government to help proffer solution to the disease.
Adewole, who reiterated the capacity of the country to contain Lassa fever, explained that there were enough health professionals to manage the disease.
He, however, denied claims by the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, that there were not enough diagnostic laboratories in the country.
According to him, the Federal Government would establish new treatment centres for Niger, Bauchi, Niger and Taraba, Plateau, Ondo and Ebonyi states “in addition to the six that are active.”
Adewole said, “We currently have testing capability in 14 testing centres some of which are in Maiduguri, Kano, Iddo, Irrua, Lagos, Port Harcourt and the FCT. We have treatment centres all over the country. We have enough personnel for managing Lassa fever. Unlike Ebola Virus Disease that is untreatable, Lassa fever is treatable. But we must start treatment on time to enable us to save the patients…”
He emphasised that all the states in the country should be regarded as hotbed of Lassa fever.
The minister said 17 states in the country were battling Lassa fever while 212 suspected cases in 62 local governments had been in existence since last year August.
He also promised that the Federal Government would establish 109 Primary Healthcare Centres on Lassa fever in each of the six geo-political zones of the country in the next three months.
Adewole said that government was determined to have a functional PHC centre in each ward across the country, and assured Nigerians that there was enough drugs to treat patients suffering from the ailment.
He, however, warned that state governments should “not be under the illusion that the Federal Government alone can take care of the health needs of this nation because we must all drive it.”
The Federal Government, he said, must not be the only one buying drugs for states, adding, “The Federal Ministry of Health cannot be producing everything. Health is on the concurrent list. We must do it together.”
In his update on the disease, the Director of Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, Prof . Abudulsalami Nasidi, expressed fear that 50 per cent of all suspected Lassa fever cases in the country were not Lassa fever but might be symptoms of a new virus.
Nasidi said, “We are worried whether we are dealing with another virus. The cases are different from Dengue, Ebola and Lassa fever,” Nasidi said.
He added that all confirmed Lassa fever cases were tested in two different laboratories.
In his submission, the Niger State Commissioner for Health, Mustapha Jibril, called for the inclusion of traditional healers and health practitioners in the fight against the disease, as done in his state to stop the spread of the disease.
However, residents of Osun State panicked on Tuesday following the death of a medical doctor at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex, Ile Ife who was suspected to have died of Lassa fever on Tuesday.
One of our correspondents gathered that the deceased, who returned from Ondo State with an illness, was admitted at the intensive care unit of the hospital before he died.
He was said to have been vomiting blood and showing other symptoms associated with the disease before he died on Monday.
A source at the hospital said, “The doctor just returned from Ondo State and he became ill. He was admitted on Sunday and he died on Monday. I was told that he showed symptoms similar to Lassa fever.
“The hospital has started contact tracing and some of the nurse and workers have been placed under observation.”
The chairman of a committee set up by the OAUTHC on Lassa fever, Prof. Adedeji Onayade, when contacted on the telephone by one of our correspondents said although a resident doctor died, the hospital had yet to confirm if he died of Lassa fever.
Onayade said, “A resident doctor died and we are suspecting Lassa fever among other causes. We cannot say it is Lassa fever until test confirms it. “
The Chairman of Osun State Association of Medical and Dental Officers, Dr. Isiaka Adekunle, when contacted on the telephone said the association would suspend its strike in case of an outbreak of disease.
Meanwhile a 65-year-old lady from Ifiogwari Village, Ayamelunu, Anambra State, has died of Lassa fever in Delta State.