Death toll in Nigeria meningitis outbreak up to 489

The affected states include Zamfara - the state most affected by the epidemic, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Nassarawa, Jigawa, FCT, Gombe, Taraba, Yobe, Kano, Osun, Cross Rivers, Lagos and Plateau.

An emergency meeting of Governors and traditional rulers of the 19 northern states of the country have held an emergency meeting in Kaduna, to discuss ways on tackling the cerebrospinal meningitis outbreak that has claimed over 400 lives in the region.

The Executive Director of National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, Faisal Shuaib, made this known while speaking at a meeting with Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Primary Health Care Delivery in Kaduna on Tuesday.

He, however, attributed the current epidemic to the inefficiency of health facilities at the local level, saying a lot of them are not capable of quickly picking up disease cases when presented. "Of these, 207 have been confirmed in laboratory tests", junior health minister Osagie Ehanire told reporters after cabinet meeting in Nigeria's capital of Abuja.

"Because easy and early identification of cases when presented would make it easier to treat the disease and to nip it in the bud before there is an epidemic outbreak".

He urged the governors to invest more funds to revitalise the health system in the northern states to tackle healthcare challenges.

He added that it was necessary, however, not just to revitalize the PHCs, but to also equip them and employ competent hands to function there.

The Emir went further to insist that Governor Yari displayed ignorance for saying the meningitis outbreak was a punishment from God for the sin of fornication.

Zamfara State is hardest hit with 1,846 suspected cases and 216 deaths.

"Our colleagues in Zamfara did not pick up the cases on time".

The action so far taken by the Federal Government has slowed down the spread.

"We need to re-educate our people so that they can have enough skills to handle such cases in the future and so as to send signal to appropriate agencies so that we can contain diseases from becoming epidemic", Mr. Ihekweazu pleaded.

"We have had challenges of drugs and health personnel as well". So, that has left us with no option than to rely on few of the tools that we have, including few vaccines that are available at global level, through the strategy contingency plan.

"We have had number of teams mobilised led by the state Commissioner for health. These children are first victims of the conflict and require support to recover from their experiences and reintegrate with their families and communities", the statement added.

"We value the critical role of traditional leaders in promoting health, preventing diseases and encouraging compliance of people affected by the disease".

Nigeria lies in the so-called "meningitis belt" of sub-Saharan Africa, stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, where outbreaks of the disease are a regular occurrence.

"There is a need for continuous vaccination and surveillance monitoring of both, because the moment we take our eyes off it and not concentrate on it, it can return as a deadly epidemic in 10 years".

Mr. Adewole, a professor of medicine, said the Federal Government would spend over $1 billion to procure vaccines to eradicate meningitis in the five most affected states in the Northern region.

  • Joanne Flowers