Surmounting Nigeria’s Food Borne Illness Problem.

Thinking about it, the food borne illness problem in Nigeria is not an insurmountable problem. All it needs to be surmounted is first and foremost an acknowledgement of its existence i.e that we have problem of food borne illness in this country and secondly a full commitment on the part of the government at all tiers (federal, state, local) to deploy resources required to deal with this matter.

When I consider the situation in the country as per food borne illness, many times I wonder and ponder “what is on the mind of the government concerning the public health burden of food borne illness in this country?”, “is the government even aware of the severity of the problem?”, “has the arm of government responsible for health matters in this country, the Federal Ministry of Health, taken any concrete steps in recent times (or should I say in living memory) in the direction of addressing the problem of food borne illness”, “what will it take for the government to upgrade food borne illness to the status of a public health issue that needs to be attended to like HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis”.

I know a National Food Safety Committee (NFSC) was set up two or three years ago but this committee has very little or nothing to do with solving the public health burden of food borne illness in the country, it’s terms of reference is largely focused on managing the process of ensuring Nigerian food products meet international safety standards for exports. So it’s more of an economic outfit than a health related body.

Even at that, one is yet to see any visible and tangible work that this enigmatic committee (I refer to it as an enigma because the names of the members of the committee or at the least the chairperson heading the committee are/is unknown in the public domain, no report or recommendation has been published by the committee since it’s inception, type “National Food Safety Committee of Nigeria” in any of the search engines and you will draw a blank or at most be  referred to some blogsites commenting about it being setup three years ago) has done. It truly has a lot of ground to cover if it truly wants to justify its creation.

It is also concerns me that when I check the websites of the Federal Ministry of Health, there is nothing about food borne illness in all its categories, the same applies to NAFDAC (National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control) although kudos needs to be given to the later for creating at least a level of public awareness about the fact that food can be dangerous to health. However the agency is more engaged in registering manufactured and finished food products and regulating their manufacturing process as well as combating fake and adulterated drugs and medicines in the country. When it comes to food from kitchens in hotels, restaurants, hospitals, boarding schools, prisons, cafeterias, hostels, fast food outlets etc. NAFDAC has no visibility.

I have heard of NACA (National Agency for the Control of Aids) and MAPS (Malaria Action Program for States), government agencies in this country that are visible to the public and in the media and with up-to-date and robust websites and calendar of activities addressing these two health issues. But concerning food borne illness in Nigeria, all we have is a worrying silence on the part of Federal, States, and Local Governments yet the casualty counts of food borne and water borne illness keeps mounting periodically in the country.

An example of a government with the will and commitment to deal with food borne illness is the United States. Three years ago President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act which is aimed at minimizing food borne illness risks to the American consumer using a science and risk based approach.

I believe we need to have a similar level of government commitment in Nigeria to address the public health burden of food borne illness in this country.


Chronicling Cholera’s Carnage Part 1

Few days ago I put up a post about the cholera outbreak that occurred this year. Knowing that cholera outbreak is a seasonal self-repeating vicious cycle I made further checks to uncover how bad the cholera cycles has been. Below are some of the media reports for cholera outbreaks from 2007 – 2012 that my checks turned up:

These are not official statistics, they are only reports in the news relating to cholera outbreaks but they are indicative of the sheer scale of recurring casualties we suffer in this country from cholera outbreaks.

All Reports Sourced From: Safe Food International

October 2007 – A total of 5 persons have lost their lives from a suspected outbreak of cholera in parts of Makurdi, the Benue state capital. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that communities where deaths have been recorded included Idye Village, Logo 2, and Wadata suburb of Makurdi, areas where pipe-borne-water could be regarded as “liquid gold.” At a hospital in Wadata suburb, which is host to Hausa community resident in Makurdi, a medical doctor told newsmen that the hospital recorded the death of a 12-year-old girl on Sat 6 Oct 2007. The doctor added that the hospital was inundated on a daily basis with people who might have contracted the disease and warned people to be cautious about the water they drank and food they ate.

October 2007 – No fewer than 5 persons, including 2 women, 2 children and a middle-aged man, were killed in Bauchi Sun 7 Oct 2007, by cholera. The Secretary to the state’s branch of the Nigerian Red Cross confirmed the deaths. He told newsmen in Bauchi that about 35 other persons had been infected by the epidemic, adding that the victims were currently responding to treatment at the Specialist Hospital, Bauchi. The Secretary said also that a special unit had been created at the hospital for the treatment of infected persons. He added that the epidemic was more pronounced in Gwallaga, Korar Ran, Kofar Durmi, and Bakin Kura areas of the metropolis. He attributed the outbreak to poor sanitary condition in the metropolis, adding that the various flood disasters experienced in the area in 2007, had also contributed to the outbreak.

November 2007 – According to this story, at least 14 people have died and scores of others are hospitalized following an outbreak of cholera in the central Nigerian state of Plateau, a government official said on Thu 29 Nov 2007. The Commissioner for Health said the waterborne disease broke out in the remote district of Bokkos last week [19-25 Nov 2007] but was reported late to the authorities as when it started, the affected people thought it was a strange ailment and refused to go to hospital.

December 2007 – According to this story, the people of Ajakajak community in Andoni Local Government Area of Rivers State have cried out to the state government to rescue them from a cholera outbreak, which has claimed the lives of more than 11 children. A local source reported that the outbreak was spreading to some other communities in the area. Other sources from Ajakajak informed that records at the community’s health centre confirmed that the figure given was for last week alone and that more cases had come in this week. It was gathered that the epidemic was spreading very fast and that about 30 persons had died so far. “It was on Nov. 30 this year when 72 pupils started purging and vomiting after eating the relief food,” said the commissioner who added that samples of the relief food had been taken to the government chief chemist in Dar es Salaam for analysis.

January 2008 – as a result of an outbreak of cholera in Gbajimba, Guma Local Government Area of Benue State, 10 persons have been confirmed dead. The state Ministry of Health on Tuesday [1 Jan 2008] confirmed the outbreak of the epidemic and the number of lives lost to it.

February 2008 – Scores of children have been hospitalized in various hospitals in Asaba, Delta State and neighboring towns following an outbreak of cholera especially in riverine communities of the state

February 2008 – over 60 children between the ages of 1-2 have reportedly died of a cholera epidemic in northern Cross River state. The incident, which occurred 3 weeks ago, has been attributed to drinking of contaminated water. The deaths occurred in Ogoja and its environs. The epidemic in Yala, Obudu, Mbube, Bekwara, and Ogoja main towns is attributable to shortage of water supply to the people resulting to the use of water from ponds, streams, and gutters for domestic use and drinking. The Medical Superintendent of General Hospital in Ogoja confirmed the epidemic.

March 2008 – According to this story, around 50 people have died in recent weeks of cholera in central Nigeria’s Benue state out of some 150 infected, the press quoted health officials as saying Sunday [30 Mar 2008]. Local newspapers said that the state capital Makurdi was worst hit by the disease which broke out in February 2008. A State health commissioner attributed the cause of the disease to drinking contaminated water. He said medical officials and drugs had been sent to the affected areas to treat the victims as well as contain the spread of the disease.

April 2008 – According to this story, at least 116 female students in northern Nigeria have been hospitalized with cholera after consuming contaminated beans, a health official said Monday [21 Apr 2008].The affected students, who attend a secondary boarding school in Gombe state, [developed symptoms] hours after eating lunch, said the permanent secretary in the Gombe state health ministry. State authorities reacted by banning beans at all boarding schools, pending the outcome of laboratory tests of the contaminated beans by Nigeria’s food and drug regulatory agency NAFDAC (National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control).

July 2008 – A medical source at Gambo Sawaba General Hospital said that six persons reportedly died from cholera, while no fewer than 30 were currently receiving treatment. The affected areas were Gyallesu, Tudun Wada, Unguwar Alfadarai, and Kusfa in Zaria council area. The head of the health department in the Zaria local government confirmed that only two persons died as a result of the outbreak and quoting from official records, he added that in Zaria six people were being treated in the hospital. According to local sources, the cholera outbreak can be attributed to lack of good drinking water and poor health services in the affected communities.

September 2008 – Local government officials say cholera outbreaks across Katsina, Zamfara, Bauchi, and Kano states in northern Nigeria have killed 97 people in the past 2 weeks, making it the worst outbreak in the north for several years, according to an official from National Primary Healthcare Agency (NPHA) in Abuja. More than 60 people have died in Zamfara state in the past 2 weeks, according to the Zamfara’s state commissioner for religious affairs. He said the death toll may be higher as reports of new infections are still coming in. In Katsina state in the villages of Makadawa and Kagadama, 20 people, mostly women and children, have died while 30 others have been hospitalized according to local government chairman Masur Usman Murnai. Another 9 people have died in Nabardo village in Bauchi state since 13 Sep [2008], with 40 more affected, according to a primary health care coordinator. The Kano State’s health told IRIN 5 people have died of cholera in the state within the past week.

September 2008 – no fewer than 5 people were feared dead as a result of an outbreak of cholera in some local government areas of Kano state. Although the disease is yet to assume epidemic status, the State Commissioner for Health said her ministry had swung into action to tackle the situation. She attributed the development to the consumption of unhygienic foods or drinks, describing such foods to include vegetable salads and fruits and contaminated food and water, which, if not properly prepared, could become vehicles for the infection and spread of cholera.

October 2008 – no fewer than 21 people have been reported dead in some villages in Kware and Wamakko local government areas of Sokoto State. The breakdown from health officials in the affected local government areas shows that 14 people died in Kware while 7 died in Wamakko local government area. It is reported that in Maruda village of Kware, 13 children and an adult died from the disease while the director of health in Wamakko local government confirmed the death of 7 people in the area. Meanwhile, the state commissioner of information has confirmed that only 2 people lost their lives at the hospital “and that is the only figure we have officially but I am not overruling a number of deaths outside the hospital.” The commissioner said the outbreak was reported in 12 local government areas of the state “but only 3 are now having reported cases.” The 3 local governments are, Kware, Dange Shuni, and Wamakko.

October 2008 – Following an outbreak of cholera in Zonkwa, headquarters of Zangon Kataf local government area of Kaduna State, about 9 persons have reportedly lost their lives within one week; and it is reported that the number might have increased.

October 2008 – According to this story, cholera and diarrhea have hit Zone ‘F’ preliminary games camp of the 16th Nigeria College of Education Games (NICEGA) being held at the Federal College of Education in Gombe, with no fewer than 5 participants in serious condition.

December 2008 – It is reported that an outbreak of cholera in the riverine community of Kula in Nigeria’s Rivers state killed 10 people, a health official said. “We have already dispatched a medical team to the area with the necessary drugs and materials to curtail the spread of the disease” Dr. Samson Parker, Rivers state’s commissioner for health, said in an interview in Port Harcourt today. Residents have been told to boil water for drinking until other arrangements can be made, he said.

December 2008 – an outbreak of cholera in the Egbagi Majin village in Kede district of Mokwa Local Government Area of Niger State has reportedly claimed 8 lives, one of them being the wife of the village head. A majority of those who died, according to a report from the village, were women. Nigerian Tribune has learned that about 15 others were hospitalized as a result of the outbreak. According to a source in the area, the outbreak could have been as a result of contaminated water being drunk by the villagers who were just relocating after a flood disaster 2 months ago.

Continues on Next Post.