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Lassa Fever: Rats or Garri?

In 2022, over 100,000 Nigerians were infected with the deadly Lassa fever while many of this estimated number of infected persons were lucky to have survived due to prompt treatment,189 persons were not so lucky as they lost their life to the lethal disease.

Nigeria which is the most populated country in Africa is one of the countries with the highest rate of infection.
of Lassa fever in the world. Located between latitude 4 and 14 degree with a weather which encourages the spread of malaria coupled with a visibly overstretched health infrastructure Nigeria constantly records cases of infections and death due to Lassa fever.

Within the first three months of the year 2023 another 104 persons have reportedly died within the same country due to the same infection. Although Nigeria trains thousands of medical personnel in its various universities across the country,many of them travel out for the country in search of the greener pastures in western countries of the world within the first ten years of graduation.

Despite the huge amount of money spent on public sensitization across all media in the country the rate of infection and death has not noticeably reduced.
One of the States that has recorded high rate of infection and death in recent time is Ondo State. Located in the relatively cosmopolitan south western region of the west African country, Ondo boasts of relatively effective health care system and the first university of medical sciences in the whole country. It’s therefore ironic that the same state records the highest infection and mortality rate as a result of Lassa fever.

This earlier laid out facts triggered this journalist to investigate the link between the mode of infection and the rate of infection of Lassa fever within Ondo state.

Lassa fever is mainly transmitted by rodents,usually the domestic type which has over the years proven quite difficult to eradicate due to Its high rate of reproduction and its ability to survive on wide range of food.

The droplets from this rodents contains substances that carry various diseases pathogens. When these food substances are consumed the consumers are infected but the infection goes undetected until it has gotten to an advanced stage.

“if I must tell you the truth most of those who get infected with Lassa get it through the raw consumption of Garri,soaking of Garri the commonest.” Tola an health worker in Owo told this Journalist.

Garri is one of the most popular food items in the whole of the west African subregion. Made from cassava(manihort utilisima) it is consumed raw,that is soaked in cold water and and eaten with fish,meat,peanut or Kulikuli. It is also made into a hard paste like form called Eba by pouring it into a bowl of hot water and turning it with a piece of stick and eaten with different kind of soup.

It’s a popular staple because it is cheap and affordable by a large proportion of the population who live below the poverty level. The ease with which it can be made ready for consumption via the soaking method has given it the image of a “life saver'” among many students of Nigeria’s higher institutions of learning.

Garri. Photo credit – Google search

Cassava the major raw material for Garri is widely grown across the country because of the ability of the crop to adapt to diverse weather and soil conditions. Cassava also requires little or no maintenance. When harvested the root is gathered and peeled and taken to the grinders where it is made into a huge paste.

The paste is subsequently put in sacks and squeezed to drain out the moisture which contains hydrogen cyanide,this is done for between 24 -76 hours depending on the desire of the producers.

The dehydrated mass is further broken down and filtered before being fried in a large frying pan placed on a huge fire place.

After the frying, the product is spread in the open for a couple of hours before it is packed in bags, ready to be sold to members of the public or stored for sales at a later date.

Garri processing plant, Owo PC: Google seaech

When this journalist visited a famous Garri production site in Owo we were welcomed my a repugnant odour of squeezed cassava liquid and a huge dung hill of cassava peelings across the road with about four west African dwarf pigs feeding and running carelessly around the area.

Fried Garri was spread in the open with careless abandon as the dusty wind of the season blows over it.

Although Nigeria has an agency of government, whose job is to administer over food and drugs sold for consumption in the country The National Agency For Food And Drug Administration And Control (NAFDAC) seems not to give a damn about the regulations of production and consumption of garri.

Garri is sold in the open, unmarked and unbranded without any agency of government certifying it fit for human consumption.

one of the foreign elements that I have found in Garri repeatedly is rat and cockroach traces,I think it comes in as a result of poor storage system ” kole Owolanke a plumber told this journalist.

“I have completely stopped soaking Garri as a result of finding rat faeces and other foreign materials in Garri. I still eat it as Eba,at least it goes through hot water before it’s consumed.

I bought different samples of Garri from Owo in Owo local government, Oba-ile Akure North local government and Akure south local government .

In one of the samples, a long strand of human hair was found,in another sample a couple of what appeared to be rat droplets was found.
According to the Centre For Diseases and Control only about 1 percent of those infected eventually die but infection when not detected and treated early can lead to other complications.

“regulating Garri production will be quite difficult because of the nature of production, this is something that is consumed by 80 percent of Nigerians. The only option,in my opinion, is to continue to educate our people about the need to be hygienic in production and storage of the product” Ayodeji Ologunmeta an Akure south local government legislator said.
In the first 10 weeks of 2023, Ondo state tops the official chart of reported cases scross Nigeria with 200 confirmed cases and 34 deaths. However Banji Ajaka, who is the commissioner for health in the State, has claimed that the position of the state on the Lassa fever chart is due to the fact that Ondo state has testing equipments for the disease. He claimed that the rate is higher in some other States with poorer health infrastructure.

Written by Alaba Adeyemi

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