Fighting both COVID-19 and cholera: Health workers, community leaders work around the clock in Nigeria
With COVID-19 stretching the healthcare system in many parts of Nigeria, health workers and community leaders have to go the extra mile to ensure vaccines reach victims of the country’s latest cholera outbreak.
27 August 2021 – by Eric Dumo
Amina Hadiza, a 34-year-old nurse in Turum, a town in Bauchi State, north-east Nigeria, recently cut short her annual three-week leave to race back to work. She felt it was her duty to do whatever she could to help tackle the growing number of cholera cases in the community.
Since the outbreak of the water-borne disease in April 2021, at least 37 people have died in the state with more than 9,000 suspected cases recorded. At the national level, there have been nearly 38,000 suspected cases of cholera and around 1,200 deaths, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (CDC). The situation is showing no signs of abating.
Despite COVID-19 pushing the healthcare system to its limits in the country, health workers and community leaders are sacrificing time and resources to help curb the outbreak of cholera in many parts of Nigeria.
“Every day, my colleagues and I visit villages to identify cholera cases, administer vaccines and evacuate those in urgent need of hospitalisation," says Hadiza. "We work closely with community leaders who keep us informed on what’s happening in their community and help us reach victims of the disease. It is a painstaking task but we are doing this to help save lives."
Dr Ahmed Hassan says that, without their direct intervention, the situation would be worse. "If we wait for victims to come to us at the health centres, many of them would have probably died. This is why we are going into villages and remote settlements to look for those who have been affected by the outbreak in order to offer treatment that can save their lives," he says.
Turum community leader Askira Muhammad, along with other community leaders, gathers information from communities within the area on a daily basis to identify cholera cases and help connect patients to health workers.
"We have lost some of our loved ones to cholera already; we do not wish for this to continue. This is why we are gathering information on cases daily to share with the health workers. This has helped bring the situation under control," he says.
In July 2021, the World Health Organization, with funding from Gavi, delivered over 1.5 million doses of oral cholera vaccine to Bauchi State to help tackle the latest cholera crisis. As of 28 July, 710,212 people across the state had been vaccinated.
As part of efforts to combat the latest cholera outbreak in Bauchi State, Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers were appointed in all council areas of the state while materials on management guidelines of the disease have been distributed among residents to raise awareness on the situation.
“After the training of these officers and other health workers for this campaign, the number of cases reported increased. This helped us to properly identify and attend to those who need the cholera vaccines,” Adamu Saliu, a Ministry of Health official in Bauchi, says.
Doctors Without Borders has erected isolation and treatment camps at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Teaching Hospital and Toro General Hospital to further help tackle the outbreak of cholera in Bauchi, which has the highest number of suspected cases in the country.
Also, in June this year, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control established the National Cholera Emergency Operations Centre, which led to the deployment of Rapid Response Teams to the most affected states, including Bauchi.
Dr Mohammed Sani, Chief Medical Director of Misau General Hospital, commended health workers in Bauchi, saying that without the sacrifices they were making more lives could have been lost to the cholera outbreak. “Many of our doctors and other personnel worked overtime to treat the increasing number of patients. Some of them could not go home to celebrate Eid-il Kabir. This is a big sacrifice on their part.”