Stay focused, be alert, let’s save lives

Fred Wesley. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

Fred Wesley. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

The message is quite clear. The key element available for us is awareness to fight the dreaded meningococcal disease.

Leave aside all the doom and gloom and negative issues! Leave aside the fear it brings forth!

It is critical that people understand what the meningococcal disease is.

We must understand the symptoms, understand every issue intrinsically linked to how it spreads, and embrace every little detail attached to it.

It is in our best interest to be part of the cycle of learning and appreciating the impact of the disease.

That starts by parents and guardians first making the effort to be aware.

They will then be in a better position to protect their children.

The World Health Organization said the most important thing that children and students could do to protect themselves was to know the signs and symptoms of the disease and to tell their parents, guardians, teacher or elder immediately if they were feeling unwell with the symptoms.

We can go on about the dangers and the frightening fact that it can kill people, or we can assist people to better understand it.

The WHO says it is important to remember that not everyone who has the bacteria will get the disease. During an outbreak, between 10-25 per cent of the general population will carry the bacteria at the back of their nose and mouth from time to time, but will not have any symptoms.

While the disease is uncommon, it said, it could affect anyone. There is, however, a higher risk for babies, children and young adults.

For babies and children, it said, this was because their immune systems were less developed and they often put things in their mouths, share food, drinks and toys. For teenagers and young adults, it said, this was because they were generally more socially active — which might include sharing drinks, food and kissing. There obviously will be questions raised by this shocking turn of events. Now that we are aware that back in 2016 figures were already available, why wasn’t there a concerted effort made to create awareness? Prior to 2016 there were 1-10 cases per year reported. In 2016 there were 29 cases and this rose to 48 cases in 2017. As of February 21 this year, 18 cases were reported.

Sceptics may insist that the shock element is actually good because it forces a rethink of how we do things in the face of this deadly disease.

However, there will be questions raised about policy issues and public health, and the need for people to be aware of major concerns as soon as possible.

As the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, stressed yesterday, while the disease is life-threatening, it can be treated if detected early, and prevented altogether by avoiding coming into contact with saliva of an affected person. We echo his sentiments: Be alert by looking out for warning signs and visit your local health facility as soon as possible. Lives will be saved.