Foresight: Cholera Epidemic

Foresight: Cholera Epidemic

I have written two previous articles regarding health in general and topics of sustainability and the definition of health. But all those represent are ideas: the longevity of ideas depends on the people that can put them into action.

From May and ending (based on media reports) in late October, there was a Cholera Epidemic in Northern Nigeria and one that threatened to spread everywhere if not curbed. It is certainly strange that in searching for stories regarding the epidemic, the latest article was on 10/22. The rather dire report speaks of a peaking in the cholera epidemic that had already killed 1500 people and 80% of the sick were women and children. After that article, I could not find any further references by reputable media sources regarding the outbreak.

So after reading reports about this, I decided to go on the trail and find the first reports of the epidemic, and any actions being made by the Nigerian government. The first article I found published August 27th reports on an announcement of the epidemic made by the Nigerian Ministry. It indicated that the epidemic had begun in May, affecting 300 and as of then, killing 350 people. The announcement blames the epidemic on heavy rains and lack of access to clean water and sanitary facilities. Lacking in the article was any recorded plan to curb this spread-only a dire warning of the possibility of a country wide spread is given.

As I looked further and read more articles, I found an article published merely a week from the first one, and beginning with the words:

“The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has blamed the refusal of most state and local governments to live up to their responsibilities of providing primary and secondary health care to their citizens, as a major contributory factor to the abysmal health system in the country.”(All Africa)

So still no obvious health plan, but accusations and concerns over inefficiency.

Later articles only tell anecdotes and give accounts of the situation in the affected states. The one article that gives measures provided by the government stated that Wells had been chlorinated to kill the cholera pathogen-although the same article notes that the chlorine wears off and conditions that caused the epidemic would soon return.

So I decided to go back even further to figure out why the rains this year had caused the outbreak. That was when I found out that the cholera incidences in that part of Nigeria had been steadily increasing over the past 3 years. And little to nothing had been done to curb it. No infrastructure had been put in place to stop the causes of the coming outbreak. Instead, it appears as if the outbreak happened, and then action is taken.

The morbidly interesting thing is that the Health institutions in those regions of Nigeria were aware of the increasing occurrences in Cholera, but there seemed to be a certain removal from it due to its lack of national and global attention. This once again comes back to the question of What is Healthy? Does the health of a population only depend on a few “hot-button” illnesses? Can nations really afford to ignore the other issues bubbling under the surface till they burst? And when these issues burst open, what kind of resources should be devoted to prevent their recurrence?

There are issues of national incompetency, apathy and no resources available to devote to solving these issues. But perhaps they could be prevented if the definition of health is widened, and resources are devoted to prevention before  those measures are needed by a large population.

-Onome U. Chicago IL, International Health Team, College Sophomore.

About the author

Onome Uwhuba Onome Uwhuba, 18, University of Chicago, Chicago IL I am a college student at the University of Chicago, and I immigrated to the States from Nigeria in 2006. To me, the East Villagers Service Scholar program is an opportunity to write about the issues and opportunities that inspire me, and yet learn more about other people and what inspires them. Until I moved to the States, I had no knowledge of the struggles faced in East Asia and other areas around the world. I hope with this internship, to gain an opportunity and a learning experience to be able to write about what I feel passionate about, proud of or want to change. I anticipate the opportunity to read what other Service Scholars and East Villagers contributors write about, and learn more about what they want to change in the world and do my part in making some of those changes happen.

  1. I wasn’t aware of the cholera outbreaks in Nigeria. It seems that cholera only rarely makes it into the news outlets, the last major one I can think of being the recent outbreak in Haiti.

    I think cholera is also ignored in part because it’s attached to a stigma of poverty and dirt often equated with practices of the populations who contract it. It would be interesting to see if the people who contracted cholera were marginalized populations that the government has little motivation to help.

  2. From what I could read, the government bodies responsible for the welfare of that region also come from the same region. So the problems that escalated into the outbreak were caused by incompetencies within the governmental institutions.
    And I think if the media outlets reported every outbreak in the world, news would be very depressing indeed. It seems to me that American media outlets prefer a light-hearted or at most somber news tone, and seem to avoid deeper or less known topics

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