Health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu has blamed poor hygiene for February’s outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria.
The outbreak killed more than 40 people over six weeks across 12 states.
“The spread of the recent scourge of Lassa fever in a number of communities in different parts of the country was as a result of poor personal hygiene,” the minister said in Abuja.
Nearly 400 cases were reported at the height of the outbreak of rodent-borne Lassa fever in February.
But speaking at a hand-hygiene campaign in Abuja, Chukwu said the prevalence of deadly communicable diseases resulting from “poor personal hygiene can be drastically minimised” through hand washing which reduces chances of infections.
The campaign proposes washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rubs or gels, which sanitise the hands when water and soap cannot be got.
According to statistics, infections account for only 31% of all deaths in south east Asia and 5% in Europe.
By contrast, 60% of all deaths in Africa is linked to infections.
“We need to do more to reduce the rate of infection,” said Chukwu, represented by health permanent secretary Fatima Bamidele, by getting into the habit of hand washing.
Hand washing among health workers has also caused reduction in hospital-acquired infections to which newborns and people recovering from surgeries are most exposed.
It is “the least costly and most highly effective effort that people can do” to safeguard their health, said Dr Joyce Hightower of the African Partners for Patient Safety.
Assessing experiences of handwashing around the world, Hightower said the lowest penetration of the campaign is in Africa and some low income countries “because we can’t get education out to people.”