•  As Lassa fever also reportedly takes toll on the population  

By: Leila Baryonnoh Gbati

Mr. Adolphus T. Clarke, Director of the Ministry of Health’s Expanded Program on Immunization, has stated that measles cases are on the rise. Mr. Clarke made the announcement during a press conference at the Ministry of Information on Thursday, March 3, 2022. He claimed that measles cases have been reported in five Liberian counties.

Montserrado, Nimba, Margibi, Maryland, and Bong Counties, he claims, are currently dealing with measles outbreaks.

In order to reduce the number of cases of measles in the country, he said, county health teams and health facilities in the impacted counties would perform a second trial of the measles vaccine in infected communities.

“With the national effort coming in 2023, the Ministry of Health will conduct a nationwide measles campaign to seize the outbreak of the disease,” he stressed. 

In a related development, Dr. Julius Gilayeneh, the Deputy Director General for Technical Services at the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), has stated that Lassa Fever is a very serious illness for which communities across the country are being encouraged to take charge of the disease in order to help prevent and respond to Lassa Fever in Liberia.

Dr. Gilayeneh made these remarks at the Ministry of Information’s regular press briefing on Thursday, March 3, 2022, when he gave an update on Liberia’s health sector.

“In order for us to do this as a team, we must keep our surroundings safe, and people should stop hunting rats and eating them. When you are sick, seek care quickly and report the sick person to the formal health facility where they can be properly evaluated and managed by the health system,” he said.

Liberia, he claims, has implemented the WHO Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response System, which monitors a number of priority diseases and public health events, including Lassa Fever, Mescles, Ebola, Yellow Fever, and others.

He noted that the Suvillance system is particularly interested in maternal and neonatal fatalities, as well as other public health incidents such as inexplicable cases of death, where health workers are normally dispatched to investigate and determine the causes of death.

Dr. Gilayeneh, however, emphasized the state of Lassa Fever in Liberia and the sub-region, stating that Lassa Fever is a viral disease caused by a virus, and that when a person is infected with the virus, they are also infected with the virus.

He also revealed that laser fever is fairly widespread in West Africa, and that it is pandemic in several nations in the region known as the Lassa Belt, including Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Benin.

“It is more widespread in Nigeria, where it originated, and we have seen around 100,000 to 300,000 cases of Lassa Fever recorded annually in the sub-region, with over 5,000 deaths,” he said.

He stated that around 210 instances of Lassa Fever were documented in Liberia between 2016 and 2022, with approximately 89 deaths.

He noted that Liberia has had a case fertility rate of 42 percent in recent years, which means that at least four out of every ten people who contract the disease will die, emphasizing that this is very concerning because Liberia’s case fertility rate is far above the WHO Threshold of 1%, and Liberia’s case fertility rate is still high when compared to other countries in the sub-region with a relatively high number of cases.

Furthermore, Deputy Director Gilayeneh stated that Liberia had a case fertility rate of 60% last year, and that from the beginning of 2022 until the present, they have recorded about 15 instances of Lassa Fever, of which 5 have expired (dead), giving them a case fertility rate of around 33%.

“We have a lower fertility rate because the health sector put in place preventive where we visited hotspot counties in Liberia when we noticed there was a rise in fertility rate over the past 2-3 years,” he explained.

He named Bong, Nimba, and Grand Bassa Counties as Lassa Fever hotspot counties, adding that “there have been cases reported from other counties including Lofa, Montserrado, and Margibi”.

He stressed that in these hotspot countries, there are specific communities where cases are reported consistently, though they have cases of Lassa Fever reported across the country.

In conclusion, he said that the disease is being transmitted from rolans to humans and human to humans, adding that “the disease is being transmitted from rolans to humans if it comes in contact with food and cooking utentiles and household items, that is, if the rat comes in contact with them and you just use the dishes without washing, you will definitely come into contact with the disease.”

“Rats are still being hunted and consumed. We have conducted extensive community awareness campaigns in rural communities around the country to ensure that people avoid eating rats, but this is a Liberian habit and tradition, which is a major difficulty we are experiencing as a result of the Lassa Fever outbreak. When a person comes into touch with Lassa Fever, the disease can be transmitted to another person via urine and blood. “It’s the same way Ebola is spread,” he explained.

He utilized the opportunity to encourage Liberians to maintain their neighborhoods clean in order to prevent rats from leaving the bush and entering their homes. He also asked Liberians to wash their dishes thoroughly before using them.

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