by Olatunji Saliu
ABUJA, April 8 (Xinhua) -- Nigerian health authorities have said the country will soon launch a healthcare fund to cater for patients with confirmed cases of Lassa fever and ensure that money does not become a hindrance in accessing treatment.
The Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed this in a statement reaching Xinhua in Abuja on Monday, saying this process is at the heart of discussion at all levels of government in the country at the moment.
"We are making plans through the Basic Primary Healthcare Provision Fund, the new funding instituted by the federal government, to cover the cost of treatment of confirmed cases of Lassa fever patients," said the statement by Chikwe Ihekweazu, head of the NCDC.
"The aim is to make sure that ability to pay is not a barrier to accessing the treatment for public health diseases such as Lassa fever," the disease control chief said.
Pending the take-off of the healthcare fund, the Nigerian government is working to reduce the burden of Lassa fever treatment on patients, he said.
Experts say the cost of Lassa treatment is very high. Ribavirin, a potent antiviral medication, is known to be a very expensive drug in the country.
"But we want to ensure that every confirmed case gets the drug free," Ihekweazu said. "No matter how accessible you can make the treatment of Lassa, it is always cheaper to prevent it."
Lassa fever is known to be endemic in several West African countries.
On Jan. 22, Nigerian authorities declared a fresh outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever, saying an emergency operations center was activated to coordinate the response.
A total of 121 deaths had been recorded since the onset of the outbreak, with 16 confirmed new cases on Friday, according to the NCDC.
The disease control center also said 526 cases have been confirmed out of the 2,034 suspected cases since Jan. 1 in 21 states across Nigeria.
Last week, one health care worker was affected in Nigeria's middle-belt state of Plateau, bringing it to a total of 17 healthcare workers confirmed dead in seven states since the outbreak of the disease this year, the NCDC further said.
The national Lassa fever multi-partner, multi-sectoral Emergency Operations Center has continued to coordinate the response activities at all levels in the country.
Recent epidemiological data show that Lassa fever usually occurs in Nigeria during the dry season between January and April.
Human beings become infected with the Lassa virus from exposure to urine or feces of infected mastomys rats. Other than common preventive measures such as washing hands regularly, the World Health Organization has also recommended keeping cats.
In 2018, the NCDC reported at least 143 Lassa fever deaths across the country.