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Diphtheria: Controversy trails likely return of face masks

Following the scourge of the Diphtheria infection which has continued to ravage several states across the north, controversies have trail the likely return of compulsory use of face masks to curtail the spread of the disease, Freelanews investigations reveal.

To underscore the scare of the infection, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency disclosed that 97 per cent of the cases were recorded in Kano, Yobe, Katsina Borno, Kaduna and Bauchi states with over 600 deaths mostly affecting children.

Freelanews reports that diphtheria is a serious infection caused by strains of bacteria known as corynebacterium diphtheriae, which experts claim spreads through airborne droplets.

It was learnt further that when an infected person’s sneeze or cough releases a mist of contaminated droplets, people nearby may inhale diphtheriae and contract the disease.

As a result of the development, several residents up north, especially those in the diphtheria ravaged states, have expressed the concern that the government may reintroduce the return of face masks and impose their use on them, reminiscent of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

Freelanews findings indicated that while some residents kick against the compulsory wearing of face masks, others were in support.
To 28-year-old Adamu Sambo from Jigawa State, the return of the face masks would be a welcome development because of commercial gains. Sambo ekes his living from sales of face masks.

According to Sambo, he can’t wait for the authorities to make the use of face masks compulsory like it was during the Covid-19 period, adding that it would mark another hallmark in his business.

Sambo, who operates from Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, told our correspondent that he made enough money to marry a new wife and solve other immediate needs, noted that it truly birthed a new horizon for him and his family.

“Selling of face masks transformed my life and helped me to take a new wife. I had sufficient money I realised from the sales of face masks. I can’t wait for the Arewa governments to make it a requirement and compulsory use for the residents to gain access to their facilities like it was during the Corona virus period,” he noted.

Although an Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Idris Mohammed, noted that the failure of the campaign for sustained, routine vaccination in the affected areas was the most important cause of the outbreak, wearing of face masks can only help in combating the airborne disease.

Mohammed, a former Chairman, National Programme on Immunisation under the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, stated, “this is undoubtedly a result of executive and professional failure on the part of those in charge of vaccination in Nigeria. The sad thing is that we knew this was imminent since vaccination has not been happening for several years, sequel to vaccine shortage.”

Commenting further on the surge of diphtheria, and the recommendation for compulsory use of face masks, he disclosed that diphtheria is a disease that affects the upper respiratory tract and, sometimes causes skin infection which is relatively rare, adding that,

“Therefore, in so far as the infection is acquired through inhalation of the causative agent (corynebacterium diphtheria), it is logical to wear face mask in order to prevent inhalation of the bacteria. This will help to prevent most infection.

“Although it must be emphasised that vaccination with the right vaccine (DTaP) is the best protective measure,” the medic insisted.

Gombe State Epidemiologist, Dr Bile Nuhu, noted that while there isn’t a current advisory by the regulatory authorities for the use of masks, nonetheless, he advised healthcare givers to stay safe by wearing masks.

Nuhu pointed out, “Face masks can reduce the risk of infection, but the most important prevention is vaccination.

“Diphtheria is not the kind of disease that will require the need to impose the wearing of face masks like COVID-19.

“We can’t advocate for that, but for healthcare workers that take care of the patients, they should wear face masks. Nobody is advocating that people should start wearing face masks.

“Sometimes, we do risk analysis; just because something is expedient doesn’t mean that everyone must do this based on the risks attached to it.”

He added, “There is no advisory from either the NCDC or the WHO for people to wear face masks not because it doesn’t prevent it but because of the risk analysis done doesn’t advice that we should make people wear masks compulsorily.”

A Kano resident, Adamu Audu, informed our correspondent that the use of face masks is not a difficult rule to adhere to because of its associated benefits.

“Actually, it isn’t a difficult rule to obey. If the governments in the northern region want us to wear masks, it is easy. Though a bit stressful during the heat, and it could also make people uncomfortable during the cold season like harmattan.

“Maybe it may also be a big issue for those who do not want to alter their fashion sense.”
Audu recalled how he was disallowed from gaining access into a popular shopping mall, adding that “except at Shoprite, there was a time I went to get something, it was like a gate pass.So, I wouldn’t mind if there is an advisory for its use in curbing diphtheria.”

On her part, another resident, this time in Katsina State, Faith Maji, agreed that wearing face masks reduces the level of the spread of infection.

Maji recalled that during the COVID-19 era, she was at Nasarawa State, and “face masks was a major tool to contain the rapid spread of the disease. We were at the forefront when COVID-19 was ravaging several households, but somehow, when use of face masks was imposed, it soon became became part of our clothing and fashion sense and that really helped to contain the infection.”

Speaking further, Maji insisted that the use of face mask is highly imperative in combating airborne disease, stressing that, “it’s for your own good because it will reduce the rate of spread of transmission air related diseases.

“I don’t think those who talk of suffocation know the function of face masks. I had people around me who were denied access to important places and other public functions for failure to wear their face masks, but for me, I was always prepared,” she added.

However, a Gombe resident, Christopher Luka, kicked against any move to impose the use of face masks, describing the use of face masks during the COVID-19 era as “suffocating” while praying that the raging diphtheria scourge would not lead to the reintroduction of such directives as part of its safety protocols.

Luka stated, “It was kind of suffocating because it made one sweat from the various parts of the face. For the kind of work I do that requires movement, you sometimes find it uncomfortable to execute properly.”

On how the failure to wear face mask had in the past also denied him access to important places, Luka added, “At a point when I needed to go into the Government House, one of the security operatives had to practically force me to wear it and the luck i had was because I had it in my bag.

There were times I went for transactions in the banks, and would be denied access into the banking lobby. At other times, the officials had insisted that I got one to wear.

“I only pray that such a period doesn’t resurface,” he remarked.

Another resident in the north from Nasarawa State, Michael Umudjon, decried the possible reintroduction of face masks, saying that it distorted his breathing.

He said, “I don’t think the reintroduction of face masks will help because not everyone used it even back then, looking at what played out during the COVID-19 era. The only time it was useful was when one was going into a bank or into any government facilities where the staff made it compulsory to wear a facemask before entering such places.

“Many of us simply wore them on our jaws. I personally wasn’t comfortable putting on the face masks. It distorted the flow of oxygen into my breathing. The reintroduction of facemask is a big ‘no’ for me.”

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