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Cholera: Avoid taking tiger nut drinks sold by hawkers, experts tell Nigerians

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Angela Onwuzoo

With the recent cholera outbreak spreading fast across the country with no fewer than 53 deaths recorded, medical and nutrition experts have advised Nigerians to stop consuming locally made drinks from unknown sources and street hawkers.

This, the experts said is to further halt the transmission of the diarrhoeal infection, which is contracted through the ingestion of contaminated food or water.

Speaking exclusively to PUNCH Healthwise, the experts said the caution was crucial, noting that some producers of locally made drinks such as zobo, kunu, and tiger nut, package them in used plastic bottles that are sometimes picked from unhygienic places.

They noted that the source of water used in preparing these drinks and the environment where they were prepared are questionable.

Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholera.

Symptoms of cholera include acute, painless watery diarrhea of sudden onset, with or without vomiting. It may be associated with nausea, profuse vomiting, and fever.

Nigeria is experiencing a significant cholera outbreak, with the NCDC reporting over 1,528 suspected cases in 31 states.

The outbreak has notably affected Lagos, Bayelsa, Zamfara, Abia, Cross River, Bauchi, Delta, Katsina, Imo, and Nasarawa states.

Lagos, within the last couple of days, has been ravaged by a cholera outbreak that has claimed no fewer than 29 lives from almost 579 suspected cases.

A Public Health Physician, Dr Omobolanle Johnson, told  PUNCH Healthwise that there are lots of health risks associated with the bottles themselves, which could expose consumers to various bacterial infections such as cholera.

Johnson, who is the Secretary, Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria, Lagos State Chapter, said not only are the bottles not properly washed but are usually picked in all manner of places.

The public health expert added, “The person making the drink is just about the money. He or she doesn’t have any training in food safety.

“Again, what type of water are they using? With water, you can get all manner of diseases including cholera. Many of them do not have training in producing these drinks.

“The hazards from the point of accessing the material to the point of consumption should be examined. There should be quality control measures. All food should be regulated in Nigeria. ”

Also speaking, a Registered Dietician-Nutritionist, Olusola Malomo, said unwashed pet bottles could harbour microorganisms which could further contaminate and grow in those packed drinks.

Malomo, who is an Assistant Chief Dietician at the Ajeromi General Hospital, Lagos, said,” No quality check and no safety protocols are observed. The producers have no form of training. There are a lot of safety issues around those drinks.”

The Lagos State Government said various possible sources, including the tiger nut drink, were being investigated to determine the cause of the outbreak.

The Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Health, Dr Kemi Ogunyemi, in an interview with The PUNCH on Saturday, linked the cholera outbreak in the state to a tiger nut drink reportedly consumed by many of those who presented with symptoms in the Eti-Osa Local Government Area.

Although the state government was yet to disclose any conclusion on its investigations into the causes of the outbreak, Ogunyemi, however, said that most of them confirmed they took the drink before presenting cases of diarrhoea and other cholera symptoms at the hospitals.

The special adviser said, “So when we noticed an increase in cases in Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos specifically, we went there to investigate. We carried out a survey and found that the common denominator, which was one of the deadly factors, was a tiger nut drink. People who came to the hospitals all identified that they had drunk tiger nut drinks. We couldn’t just take their word for it, so we had to take that drink and test it to see what was in it. We immediately sent people out to look for those selling it so we could take a sample.


“We found empty bottles with a name on them, but we discovered that it wasn’t even registered with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, the regulatory body that ensures the safety of consumables. There was a phone number and a name on the bottle, and we started tracing. We did contact tracing, similar to what we did with COVID-19.

“From our investigations, we realized that the beverages were not registered, so the producers hadn’t gone through the processes to ensure that what they were producing was safe for the public to consume.”

A food expert, Aina Olugbenga, told our correspondent that most of the pet bottles that were used in Nigeria were not meant to be reused, warning that reusing them jeopardises the health of the consumer.

Olugbenga said, “I see a lot of them being used to make zobo, kunu, and tiger nut drinks by local women and hawkers.  And the health implications are so much.

“We can’t guarantee the cleanliness of these bottles. One is that you don’t know who used it last, you don’t know what it was used for and then, you can’t guarantee the cleaning process.

“Most of these plastics are not reusable. They are supposed to at best be recycled and not to be reused. Most of the pet bottles that you are seeing in Nigeria are not meant to be reused. But we are reusing them. It is not safe, it is not hygienic.”



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