Governor of Nassarawa State, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, yesterday told participants at the first international conference on Lassa fever in Abuja how he contracted the disease in 1990 that made him deaf for 20 years before he had a cochlear implant.
The governor said he lost his first son to Lassa fever nine years after marriage, the second son survived but with the burden of the side effects of the virus, neurological problems, especially hearing loss.
Al-Makura said he got infected when he was bitten on his finger while trying to prevent his then sick son from biting his tongue. He said he later fell sick with severe headache, seizures, cough, stomachache and erratic breathing.
According to him, it took the intervention of a foremost virologist and head of the National Lassa Fever Committee, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, who came to visit him at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) Plateau State, to be saved.
Al-Makura said that Tomori immediately instructed that he should be taken to EKO Hospital in Lagos and his blood sample sent to the United States Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia. The governor was diagnosed positive to the virus after two weeks.
Al-Makura said in order to eradicate Lassa fever and other infectious diseases, his administration was building a comprehensive diagnostic centre in Lafia, which is nearing completion. He also said that his administration had established a special school in Lafia to cater for people with disabilities such as the blind, the deaf, the lame and those with down syndrome for free, as from kindergarten to secondary school.
“I stand as a product of the tragedy of Lassa fever. I was completely deaf and had to be living with that for 20 years and I was using hearing aid until I had cochlear implant that mechanically processes the sound. I endured a certain measure of deafness. It was the same with my son who was able to survive.
“I consider myself very lucky. I have survived to tell my story. I encourage all of us to rise up to the challenge. I can feel the endless psychological trauma. I am a product of the tragedy of Lassa fever. There is the adage that there is ability in disability. I believe with a conference like this, we will be able to protect a lot of people who would have been disabled. So let us try as much as possible to prevent diseases.
“I got elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2015. In 2012, I led the Bill on persons with disabilities to the National Assembly. My executive bill in Nassarawa State on persons with disabilities has been passed by the House Assembly. I have signed into law the Nassarawa State Disability Law.”
“Above all, this is my contribution to the eradication of Lassa fever and other infectious diseases. I am saying thank you God for keeping my life. Let us rise to the challenge and defeat Lassa fever once and for all,” the governor appealed.