By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
The Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, has said that his agency and relevant partners in the health sector are working assiduously to sustain response activities against Lassa fever in states across the country.
He said these activities are despite progress made so far.
Speaking on Monday while addressing newsmen at the headquarters of the NCDC in Abuja, Ihekweazu said “Over the last five weeks, there has been a decline in the number of new cases of Lassa fever reported in Nigeria. In addition, the country has witnessed a reduction in the number of people who have died from the disease, compared to 2018.”
He said an outbreak of Lassa fever was declared in Nigeria on the 21st of January 2019. “Since then, 420 confirmed cases and 93 deaths have been reported in 21 States. The national response is being coordinated by the national, multi-sectoral, multi-partner Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) led by NCDC. In addition, NCDC has supported Ebonyi, Edo, Ondo, Plateau and Kebbi states in activating sub-national level EOCs for coordination.”
The NCDC boss recalled that following the large Lassa fever outbreak in 2018, the NCDC together with partners instituted five key measures to ensure improved preparedness in 2019.
He said the measures included: “training over one thousand health care workers in the six zones in the country on Lassa fever management, diagnosis and surveillance, together with the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital; Prepositioning of treatment and diagnostic supplies to the 21 states that recorded cases in 2018, treatment centres and laboratories; Publication of Lassa fever messages on three major newspapers, weekly radio shows on Radio Nigeria, and intensive community engagement; High level advocacy visits to State Governments, encouraging them to do more to prevent and respond to cases of Lassa fever; Developed new case management guidelines, initiated a Lassa fever Research Consortium and hosted and International Conference on Lassa Fever to share knowledge.”
Ihekweazu further said that following the declaration of the 2019 outbreak, Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) comprising officers from the NCDC, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Federal Ministry of Environment have supported the response in the high burden states of Edo, Ondo, Ebonyi, Plateau, Bauchi and Taraba states.
“In these states, NCDC has also supported full availability of drugs, personal protective equipment, laboratory reagents and other supplies required for case management and diagnosis of Lassa fever. This year, there has been no single stock-out reported in any state.
“In January 2019, NCDC hosted the first Lassa fever International Conference. This brought together the largest gathering of researchers and professionals to discuss progress on Lassa fever. Importantly, Nigeria introduced her national Lassa fever research plan and has been recognised as one of the leading stakeholders in global Lassa fever research. Over the last six months, progress has been made in this area especially in discussions around Lassa fever vaccines. In the next one year, Nigeria is expected to be part of clinical trials towards the development of Lassa fever vaccines.”