By Jessica Onyegbula
The Edo State Government has threatened to prosecute individuals or organisations stigmatising Lassa fever survivours in the state.
Dr Osamwonyi Irowa, Director, Disease Control, Edo State, made the threat in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Benin City.
Irowa, also the state’s Epidemiologist, explained that the warning became necessary following series of complaints and reports which emanated from the field and some of the Lassa fever survivours.
“You cannot sack a worker because he or she has been treated of Lassa fever or tell the person that you cannot come back to this company; it is not possible under Gov. Godwin Obaseki.
“In fact, the authority of some of these organisations have called to deny stigmatising their workers who survived Lassa fever; at times when they do, they withdraw it and blame it on misinformation. And before you know it, the people are back to work.
“In this Emergency Operation Centre (EOC), we have the Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Directorate of State Security (DSS), and at times we bring in the army. We also have civil society groups as part of us.
“The Ministry of Justice is with us subtly; they are not regularly with us but if we need it, it is a matter of sending a write-up there,” Irowa told NAN.
“No matter how big the organisation and you say you want to sack someone because he was treated of Lassa fever, we pull you to order because we detest stigmatisation. It is our duty in public health to save lives and as an epidemiologist, I find it interesting.
“I can easily put a call through and say my name is this, I am the state Epidemiologist, please I heard that this happened in your organisation, and we get positive results immediately; this method has always worked for us.”
The medical doctor noted that the law enforcement agents were not only called in when surviviours’ rights were violated, but that they also intervene when someone had refused treatment.
Irowa added: “What we normally do because of the network we have is that if we have obstacles and someone if refusing treatment, we call in the DSS because if you don’t want to be treated you are putting every other person in danger.
“We want to save the infected person but even if you are refusing to be saved, we must compel you. And we have noticed that immediately the law enforcement agents arrive, the person immediately volunteers for treatment by entering the ambulance.”