Face masks return as harmattan bites hard

In dramatic turn of events face masks are coming handy as Nigerians battle dust, foggy and other health discomfort associated with the harmattan season, KEHINDE OSASONA writes.

The harmattan season occurs between the end of November and the middle of March in the West African sub-region. It is mostly cold in most places, but can be hot in some other places too, depending on circumstances.

The dry season as it is widely called is often characterized by dry and dusty North-east trade winds, which blow from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea.

However, more than that, the harmattan season can trigger or complicate deadly diseases like rheumatism, cardiac arrest, nose bleeding, arthritis and even death from hypothermia, which is a condition of having abnormally low body temperature.

Other climate-induced diseases include Cerebro spinal Meningitis (CSM), cholera, diarrhoea, vomiting, sore throat, sneezing, wet eyes, peeling of scales, chicken pox, and measles of the skin, conjunctivitis, cold, cough and catarrh, asthma or even spontaneous nosebleeds for other people.

There are also mild challenges like cracking of lips or breaking of lips, sole of the feet, dry skin and others.

Following these challenges that come with the season the use of face masks, which many thought had fizzled out with the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) scourge has suddenly returned to the scene, with vendors making brisk business as was the case during the pandemic.

The pandemic drove the demand for disposable face masks market grossing an estimated $0.79 billion in 2019 and $166.44 in 2020, and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 53.0 percent from 2020 to 2027.

Researchers, NIMET’s concern

Worried by the spate of diseases associated with the dry season, researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, in a study published New England Journal of Medicine found that chronic kidney caused by a combination of increasingly hot temperatures, toxins and infections, emerged as a major illness among workers in hot climates.

Back home in Nigeria, the National Meterological Agency (NiMet) also warned that heat-related ailments such as measles and heat rashes were expected during the hot season, noting that the information and projections provided will assist health policy makers such as the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to develop effective vaccination strategies to prevent outbreaks.

While warning about climate-induced diseases, the agency noted that incidences of malaria and other diseases would be higher in areas with high temperatures in the range of 18 to 32 degrees Celsius associated with high relative humidity above 60 per cent precipitation.

The agency added that there is likelihood of such incidence in areas covered by thick vegetation, saying it was capable of providing environmental conditions conducive for the survival of vector and development of malaria parasites. Some of the areas mentioned are; the coastal cities of Lagos, Abakiliki, Eket, Calabar, Ogun, Ondo , Owerri and Ebonyi.

Other parts mentioned by NiMet are Kogi, Cross River, Benue, Osun, Delta, Kwara, Niger, Nassarawa, Benue, Plateau and Taraba states.

Residents’ decry challenges

Speaking exclusively to Blueprint Weekend  a resident of Jabi Area, in the FCT, Glance Isaiah, lamented that the harmattan season had always been war and hellish for him.

Glance, a businessman from Taraba state, explained to this medium how as an asthmatic patient he has been battling every dry season.

According to him, struggling with the dry season and its accompanying diseases has made him take crucial decisions to save his life, having discovered that it is not enough to be on medications or even use facemasks.

“I am not a deep pocket like that. But in order to now save my life, I packed out of my former resident in Kabusa Area to avoid dust which nearly triggered my condition. In my new area now, at least I can safely say am out of dusty area which nearly killed me but not without spending fortunes to escape it,” he said.

Our Correspondent also observed that many residents of the FCT were not left out in the spate of lamentation over dusty roads occasioned by neglects by the government.

Spike in respiratory related ailment

A Lugbe resident, Alice Tsa, also described the dusty dry season as worrisome and decried the challenges associated with dust and its health implications to human body.

Alice, who is her 40s, said something must be done by the government to save people’s lives.

“By its nature, dust will not only torture you, the wind and movement of vehicles on the roads for some of us plying untarred roads daily is not a palatable experience.

“Despite the fact that Covid-19 is not here with us again, I still have plenty facemasks at home as I speak because for me with this dusty environment, it is not over yet.

“Dusty environment in many parts of the Abuja FCT especially in the dry season has worsen many residents health and I speak with you, many of them with respiratory organ related ailment have either died or relocated to their villages,” she said.

Road construction compounds situation

Similarly, a Vulcanizer resident in Galadimawa, Yunana Ezekiel, who has a make-shift shop in the area, called on the government to come to their aid over the situation.

According to Yunana, the ongoing project should be speedily done as a way of complementing what residents has done to reduce dust and make some of the untarred roads motorable.

“Sometimes even with face masks, I still run away from my shop to avoid the dust. You need to see me last week at work and you will not but pity me. But do I have choice? Man must wack,” he declared in broken English.

When our correspondent approached, a facemask seller in Jabi Area, who simply identified her sesl as Roseline, she said that despite the end of COVID-19 she still sells and makes profit from face masks.

“Well, am still selling face masks and I make my little gain from it. After the COVID-19, I did not stop selling face mask but I hardly finished a pack. But surprisingly, the market started moving again. At first, I thought corona has returned, only for my elder sister to draw my attention to the fact that people buy facemask to protect themselves from dry season-induced diseases.”

On whether she sells the face masks made from fabrics, she said a tailor had approached her during the COVID-19 pandemic and he made some gains from it then, but people were not demanding it again.

However, some tailors who spoke with our correspondent said they were still making gains from sewing and selling face masks.

One of them, Hannatu Mudi, said she still makes the face masks using beautiful local fabrics which she sells at N100 per one.

‘I choose to switch like that because of the high prices of the China-made and factory -made masks. Some people still use the locally-made ones especially in this dry season.

“I made between N750  and N800 profit under two days last week. That is to tell you that dry season has also helped in the sale of facemasks corona or no corona,” she said.

Also speaking on face mask use in the dry season, Chima, a vendor selling second hand vehicle mirrors at Jabi said he patronises the locally made face masks because they are cheap compared with China made.

Analyst too

Also speaking on the issue, a Public Commentator, Idris Arogun wondered why the Nigerian government has not taken the opportunity provided by the COVID-19 scourge to take local production of face masks seriously.

While noting that people were still using the masks during the dry season and for other reason he stated: “Cant we for instance engaged textile companies to be engaged in production and supplying of facemasks so that our youth who are jobless can benefit from it.

“If we can run a textile factory successfully in Nigeria, why not facemask like the Chinese is doing? I mean what is wrong with us here?

“Can’t private individuals establish facemask factory and pay tax to governments or even States government like we have in Cross-Rivers and Kwara Garment Company?

‘If 50 million Nigerians buy a N100-face mask in a month, the investor in such mask industry would have made N5 billion or N10 billion if the mask had sold for N200.”

UNI Agric Markurdi
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