Cholera Outbreak in Nigeria: Expert Calls for Improved Waste Management

Cholera outbreak
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By Ify Onyekwere

On the 6th of January 2024, “The Development Report” on People’s 105.5FM delved into the escalating cholera outbreak in Nigeria and the critical role of waste management in curbing the outbreak. The program featured Dr. Chimere May Ohajinwa, an Environmental Toxicologist and Public Health Expert, who provided an in-depth analysis of the situation and offered strategic solutions to tackle the health emergency.

Dr. Ohajinwa highlighted that cholera, a highly infectious disease, spreads rapidly through contaminated water and food. “This is not the time to drink water or eat food you are not sure of the source,” she warned, emphasizing the need for caution during outbreaks. Speculations indicate that the recent cholera outbreak may have been triggered by a roadside tigernut drink, underscoring the ease with which the disease spreads in environments with poor sanitation.

The public health expert pointed out that many individuals could be asymptomatic carriers of cholera, akin to the transmission dynamics of typhoid. These carriers, though not showing symptoms, can infect others, particularly those with weaker immune systems. “There are people that have traces of cholera but do not know they have it because it’s not yet manifesting,” Dr. Ohajinwa explained. She stressed the importance of robust public health surveillance and education to identify and manage potential carriers.

Dr. Chimere May Ohajinwa, an Environmental Toxicologist and Public Health Expert

Improper waste management practices were identified as a significant contributor to the cholera outbreak. Dr. Ohajinwa noted that many Nigerians still engage in open dumping, a practice that pollutes the environment and facilitates the spread of diseases like cholera. “Proper waste disposal of both solid, liquid, and hazardous waste can help reduce the spread of cholera,” she asserted. The habit of roadside drink sellers reusing plastic bottles without adequate sanitation was also flagged as a dangerous practice that exacerbates the public health risk.

Dr. Ohajinwa advocated for adopting waste management practices common in advanced countries, such as paying for waste disposal services and ensuring the availability of dustbins in public spaces. She highlighted the need for proper waste segregation, suggesting that waste should be categorized into plastics, biodegradables, paper, and other types to facilitate safer disposal and recycling processes. “We also need to be very conscious of our waste to reduce single-use plastics,” she added.

The concept of the “5 Rs” of waste management—Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle—was presented as a key strategy in promoting environmental consciousness and reducing waste. Dr. Ohajinwa urged Nigerians to refuse unnecessary plastic products, reduce waste generation, reuse materials, repair items instead of discarding them, and recycle waste to mitigate the environmental impact and associated health risks.

Commending the Lagos State government’s ban on Styrofoam, Dr. Ohajinwa lamented that some individuals still use the material, unaware of its health hazards. “When hot food is placed in Styrofoam containers, the material can melt and leach harmful chemicals into the food,” she warned. Ingesting these chemicals poses serious health risks, highlighting the need for stricter enforcement of the ban and greater public awareness.

Click here to read Ban on Styrofoams by LASG

Dr. Ohajinwa also emphasized the importance of personal hygiene and sanitation in preventing cholera transmission. She advised thorough washing of fruits and vegetables, particularly those consumed raw, and recommended peeling fruits when possible. “Ensure that your water source is clean, even if you have to boil your water,” she advised, stressing the necessity of regular handwashing—ideally five times daily—and educating households on these practices.

The rise in cholera cases is a stark reminder of the interconnectedness between public health and environmental management. Nigeria’s fight against cholera requires a multifaceted approach, involving improved waste management, strict hygiene practices, public education, and robust health surveillance. Dr. Ohajinwa’s insights on “The Development Report” provide a comprehensive roadmap for addressing the current outbreak and preventing future ones. By adopting these measures, Nigeria can make significant strides in controlling cholera and safeguarding public health.

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