In its latest report, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control announced a total of 19,228 suspected cases of cholera, including 466 deaths in 2022.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, this is an emergency that should be taken seriously by government at all levels.
Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal disease caused by Vibrio cholerae bacteria. It is passed on from faeces through contaminated food, drinks, and unhygienic environment, and causes severe dehydration. The number of cholera cases tends to increase with the onset of the rainy season. The risk of death from cholera is higher when treatment is delayed.
Needless to say, the government must do everything possible to avoid a repeat of 2010 when Nigeria had its worst cholera outbreak in recent years, with nearly 40,000 cases and more than 1,500 deaths reported, according to a United Nations report. In 2014, Nigeria recorded 35,996 cases and in 2015, 2,108 cases were reported, with 97 deaths. Suffice it to say, cholera has become a recurring decimal in the country.
Regrettably, the Covid-19 pandemic has relegated most other diseases to the background.
Cholera is largely associated with rural communities and among poor people with poor nutrition, poor water quality, and poor sanitation, hence it has not gotten the desired attention from the government.
Experts have advised that washing hands frequently with soap under clean running water can prevent infectious diseases, including cholera. This is especially important after defecation and before handling food or eating.
Also, people should avoid open defecation and indiscriminate refuse dumping which contribute to the spread of cholera, as well as improved access to clean water, proper sanitation, and hygiene. This is a critical measure to prevent cholera cases and outbreaks.
Sadly, Nigeria is among the nations in the world with the highest number of people practising open defecation, estimated at over 46 million people. The practice brings with it significant health risks, linked to deaths from diarrhoea, cholera, and typhoid.
In 2016, Nigeria launched an action plan to end open defecation by 2025. The plan involves providing equitable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services and strengthening tailored community approaches to total sanitation.
However, financial constraints have put the target in jeopardy. Nigeria needs an estimated N959 billion ($2.7 billion) to end open defecation by 2025. Of that, the government is expected to provide around 25%, or NGN234 billion — because the country loses N455 billion annually to poor sanitation.
We also recall that based on World Bank estimates, Nigeria will be required to triple its budget or at least allocate 1.7 percent of the current Gross Domestic Product to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).
Therefore, we call on the federal and state governments to step up efforts to provide equitable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services. The government should also ensure the sustainability of water services in rural communities.
Similarly, the government should revive the campaign to end open defecation in the country. Also, we call on the government to step up surveillance to detect and monitor the spread of the disease in the country.
It is essential to improve access to clean water and sanitation facilities. This can be achieved through investments in infrastructure, such as building wells and sewage treatment plants, as well as through public education campaigns that teach people about the importance of proper hygiene and hand washing.
In addition to improving access to clean water and sanitation, it is also important to strengthen the country’s public health system. This means investing in trained medical professionals, as well as in the supplies and equipment needed to effectively diagnose and treat cholera.
The government must break the cycle as cholera keeps reoccurring every year. We also insist that hand-washing campaigns have to be reignited across the country. The way the government campaigned vigorously for the Covid-19 protocols should be extended to the handwashing campaign across the country, especially in rural areas.
Finally, Nigeria must work with international organisations and other countries to learn from their successes and failures in the fight against cholera. This could include sharing best practices for preventing and controlling outbreaks, as well as collaborating on research and development efforts to find new and more effective ways to combat the disease.
Ending cholera in Nigeria will not be easy, but it is a goal that is well within reach. By addressing the root causes of cholera transmission and working together with the global community, we can finally put an end to this devastating disease in our country.
We must do everything possible to eliminate cholera from Nigeria.