EDITORIAL: Monkeys And Diseases

There seem to be no end to the outbreak of deadly diseases in Nigeria and their relationship with bush meat of which monkeys are part of. When the news of the disease was made public, many thought that the name ‘Monkey pox’ was a joke contrived by a humourist. Soon, it turned out that, indeed, there is a disease by that name. But what is wrong with monkeys? They are always associated with deadly ailments. We recall that HIV/AIDS was also traced to the hapless animal.

Before now, Nigerian health authorities had claimed that there were a total of three recorded human cases in 1971 and 1978 of the Monkey pox disease. The virus that carries the disease was first identified in 1970. Then it was associated as the cause of smallpox-like illness in humans in remote African locations first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research. It is, therefore, easy to explain the origin of the name. However, the first recorded human case of the disease was in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. There were also reported cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The following year, 1971, there was a case in Cote d’ivoire and two in Nigeria. Then in 1976, there were two more cases in Cameroon and again, one in Nigeria in 1978.

The disease is believed to be a milder disease-fewer deaths, and limited human-to-human transmission. These are supposed to give those with it some cold comfort. But still, it is fatal in humans and, though similar to smallpox, it is much milder. What is that supposed to mean? Though there are no known natural reservoir of the disease, it is all the same believed by medical scientists that African rodent- species play a role in its transmission. That also explains why in the public health campaigns since the outbreak of the disease, emphasis has been placed on the urgency of avoiding some animals like rat and so on. There was also the need for personal hygiene in the fight against the scary disease. Some preventive measures believed to be able to check the spread of the disease, include avoiding contact with infected animals especially those that are sick or found dead in areas where Monkey pox occurs.

It is gratifying to note that with the masterful way the country combated Ebola when it broke out, health authorities have acquired skills in the area of the management of such emergency cases when they occur. Since then, there had been Lassa fever. From the assessment of the disease by doctors, there are no specific drugs to provide dependable cure for it. Emphasis is, therefore, on the preventive measures accompanied by intensive supportive care needed by the patients to help them recover faster.

We commend the health authorities at all levels in the country who have worked assiduously to ensure that the impact is ameliorated within manageable limits. For prevention, Nigerians are advised to wash their hands with soap and water after contact with animals or when caring for sick relatives, humans or soiled beddings.

Health care workers, in order not to repeat what happened when Ebola was first identified after some doctors and nurses had already been infected, are advised to practice universal precautions while handling patients and/or body fluids at all times. They are also urged to be alert, be familiar with the symptoms and maintain a high index of suspicion.

Even more importantly, in our opinion, is the provision of facilities that can manage this ailment when it rears its deadly head. From indications, the existing health institutions may be inadequate both in the provision of infrastructure and other special care-giving facilities that may be needed in the effort to check the ailment.

We recall that why it was relatively easy for Lagos State to combat Ebola was because the government, at that time, had put in place what was needed to handle the situation including a crematorium. Such proactive steps are required now that another virus-propelled disease is in the country. Monkey pox may not be as deadly as Ebola, it is nonetheless a disease that demands special remedial and curative measure and must be given all the serious attention it deserves.