A former Director of the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and CEO, Resolve to Save Lives, New York, Dr. Tom Frieden, has called for proper funding of the health sector at the three tiers of government to boost preparedness and response to epidemics in Nigeria.
He observed that the huge gaps in preparedness were life-threatening.
The Joint External Evaluation (JEE) report, which states how ready a country is to find and prevent epidemics, showed that Nigeria was not prepared for the next round of epidemics (if any), and this implies that if an outbreak of an infectious disease happens today, it could lead to many deaths and spread across international borders.
Addressing the media at the weekend in Abuja, Frieden, who noted that the country does not have a disease tracking system, stated: ‘’It is life-threatening that we don’t have laboratory networks to know which diseases are threatening. It is life-threatening not to have a rapid response which can surge into action within hours to stop the spread of diseases. It is life-threatening not to have effective public health staff not only at the national level but also in the state and local levels. So, we have huge gaps in Nigeria.”
He submitted that Nigeria, for varying reasons, continues to have several ailments like Lassa fever, monkeypox, yellow fever, stressing that between January and July this year, there were 3000 cases of Lassa fever in the country.
‘’You should identify the problems before you can fix it. I am very impressed by the progress Nigeria is making in many areas. So, what is needed, first of all, is money. Show me your budget, I will show you your priorities. Don’t tell me something is a priority and you are not spending much.”
I recognise that resources are limited but public health programmes are essentially an indication of (a) good government. My first point is that the budget is crucial,” he stated.
According to the American, not only should the budget be robust, it needs to flow around the state and local government levels too.
“Preparedness at the state level is crucially important because it is like building with a fire suppression system. So, it is basically money, coverage and effective spending. We have to recognise that the government systems require very detailed difficult work to get the job done well and we also have to hold them accountable,” Frieden added.
He continued: ‘’I am greatly encouraged by the progress the national centre for disease control has made in the last two to three years. During the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic as you know, one man came from Liberia, went to Lagos, died in a hospital in Lagos and there was a cluster of Ebola cases. In my eight years as director, that was the scariest moment because there was every possibility that that would explode over Lagos, all over Nigeria and all over Africa.”
Author: Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze