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How we have been curtailing Lassa fever, by research chief

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The Director, Institute of Lassa Fever Research and Control, Irrua Specialists Teaching Hospital (ISTH), Irrua Edo State, Dr. Ephraim Ogbaini, has said the hospital in collaboration with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) have been collaborating with stakeholders in the health sector to strengthen the capacity of the Nigerian health workers to respond effectively to the present and future Lassa fever outbreaks in the country.

He said the Lassa Fever Centre in the hospital have also been involved in sensitisation activities in communities across the states of the federation using both conventional and non-conventional modes of communication.

He said the Institute of Lassa Fever Research and Control is ” to reduce and ultimately eliminate the contribution of Lassa fever to morbidity and mortality from communicable diseases and to apply the experience and gains in the Lassa fever control program to the control of other Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers, IHV in Africa”

The institute which was established in 2007 following the designation of ISTH as Centre for Excellence for the Management and Control of Lassa Fever by the federal ministry of health in 2001 he said played a key role in the containment of the 2014 ebola outbreak in West Africa that also affected Nigeria

“Service delivery focuses on diagnostics, case management, and public health response” adding that over 13,000 blood samples have been processed in the Lassa fever diagnostic laboratory of the ISTH since inception. “Samples have been from 27states of the federation, including the FCT, Positive test yield of about 1,550 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) confirmed cases.

“Over 700 confirmed cases have been managed at the Lassa Fever War of the hospital. The hospital case fatality rate of cases managed at the institute has ranged from 15 per cent to 34 per cent. There is surge capacity t double the number of bed space and clinical staff during outbreaks by deployment from other clinical departments in the hospital.

“The laboratory personnel include a consultant, medical virologist, three biomedical scientists, 22 scientific officers and other support staff. Most of the laboratory personnel have received relevant training from Germany, USA and UK with support research partners and collaborators.”

He said the Institute has subsisting collaborations and partnerships with “Bernhard-Nocht Institute of Tropical Medicine, hamburg, Germany, Harvard and Tulane Universities USA, and Public Health Enland.”

He said concluded and on-going research interests in Lassa fever included “host susceptibility , virus genomics, pathogenesis, transmission, clinical course, spatial epidemiology, and development of serologic assays and rapid diagnostic tests”

Earlier, the Chief Medical Director of the hospital Prof. Sylvanus Okogbenin, advocated the deployment of multidisciplinary and multisectoral approach for the control of Lassa fever in Nigeria. He said the dreaded disease has spread from 8 in 2008 to 20 states in 2018.

In his remarks, the Chief executive officer and national coordinator of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said Lassa fever has become endemic in Nigeria pointing out that it will be here for some time.

Ihekweazu who was represented by Mr. Michael Popoola, a laboratory scientist at NCDC, said: “There is an increasing global health focus on Lassa fever and the work we do is at the centre of this.

“Therefore, this collaboration with the Institute of Lassa Fever Research and Control that has vast experience in managing cases is very critical for us• We hope that at the end of the training, you are better empowered to take ownership of Lassa fever case management in your State.”

Between January 1 and May 6 2018, Nigeria was faced with its largest outbreak of Lassa fever. During this outbreak there were more confirmed cases than the country had ever recorded.

The Federal Ministry of Health through the NCDC and partners led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), led response activities across the country.

This included strengthening of infrastructure at the three main treatment centres in Irrua, Owo and Abakaliki; inclusion of a fourth laboratory for Lassa fever diagnosis at the Virology Centre, Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki; deployment of Rapid Response Teams to affected States; provision of drugs and personal protective equipment for treatment as well as risk communications activities to increase awareness across the country.

During the outbreak, nearly 85 per cent of confirmed cases were from Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi. During the 2018 outbreak, more than ever before, the Institute of Lassa Fever Research and Control at the ISTH played a major role. “This Institute manages the largest burden of Lassa fever cases in Nigeria and globally. Over the years, we have grown in our capacity to manage and diagnose Lassa fever cases. Our health workers have been trained and effectively manage cases of Lassa fever cases till they are discharged.”


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