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Meningitis outbreak in Nigeria: Is there an end in sight?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, usually caused by bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infection of the surrounding fluid.

As of April 17 2017, there had been over 8000 reported cases of Meningitis in Nigeria, and nearly 800 deaths, and it’s not slowing down yet. The first case of the disease was first reported in Zamfara state in November 2016. By February 2017, it had become more widespread in the Northwest and Northcentral zones in Nigeria and was declared an epidemic in six states Katsina, Kebbi, Zamfara, Niger, Sokoto and Yobe.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, usually caused by bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infection of the surrounding fluid. Viral and Bacterial meningitis are contagious and can usually be transmitted by overcrowding, coughing, sneezing and close contact. Epidemic meningitis is most often caused by the bacteria known as Neisseria Meningitidies. It has different strains but Serotype C accounts for about 80% of the Nigerian outbreak.

The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control is supposedly making efforts to bring the outbreak under control. Rapid Response teams have been deployed to all affected areas to ‘provide assistance’, but it seems as though the efforts put forth are not enough because the death toll seems to be on the increase. In the past 2 weeks alone, approximately 300 people have died from this outbreak. These deaths could have been avoided, either through vaccination or by accurate diagnosis and rapid intervention. Part of the reason for the increased number of deaths may be due to the unpreparedness of the health authorities especially, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.

The NCDC as well as the Ministry of Health are well aware that Nigeria is one of the countries that fall under the ‘Meningitis Belt’ yet, we were unprepared for an outbreak. Meningitis can occur anytime of the year but is most commonly seen during the dry season from December to June. In 1996 alone, Meningitis killed more than 11,000 people in Nigeria. In 2009, almost 600 people died. In fact, just 2 years ago, a meningitis epidemic affected almost 10,000 people and killed over 1000 people in Nigeria. And now, again, in 2017, it’s happening all over again. How can we not be prepared? Why should we be caught unawares? It is occurrences like these that make people theorise about the lack of empathy for the poor or average Nigerian life.

Meningitis is quite common in Sub Saharan Africa and countries like Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, Chad, Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso etc make up the ‘Meningitis Belt’ because of the likelihood of meningitis epidemics every few years. The most affected age group is 5-14 years of age and those affected may exhibit symptoms such as high fever, headache, neck stiffness, photophobia, altered mental status, nausea, vomiting etc Though meningitis is treatable, it still has a high morbidity and fatality rate.
Yes, the NCDC has explained that the C strain which is causing majority of the reported cases is not very common, and so, they weren’t (still aren’t) prepared for it. But that is an unacceptable excuse. The Disease Control Centre and the Ministry of Health are knowledgeable enough to know how to prepare for eventualities. What incentive is necessary to create a passion for preserving humanity? When will we ever be prepared to tackle an outbreak of meningitis, a disease that has cut short the lives of so many Nigerians?

The truth of the matter is that there is a scarcity of vaccines. It baffles me how we are still battling to stock up on vaccines knowing fully well that the country is prone to meningitis outbreaks. The Federal Government have gotten vaccines to combat the Type C strain but they are not enough. About 500,000 doses of Meningitis C vaccine have been distributed to affected areas in the North for immediate vaccination. Approximately, another 800,000 doses are being expected from United Kingdom to help support the ongoing vaccination programs. That brings the total to about 1.3M vaccine doses for a country that has a population of over 180M people. We might as well say that we have no vaccines. This Meningitis outbreak shows that the Ministry of Health have no solid plan of action to help prevent such widespread outbreaks. It is disheartening that here in Nigeria, we wait until there is an epidemic or an outbreak before we start running helter-skelter to try to manage it.

They knew it was coming. The first case was back in November, and only now, after 4 months and 8000 cases later, are we only starting to acquire vaccines. Why can’t we have emergency preparedness like other countries? Imagine the United Kingdom giving Nigeria 800,000 doses of vaccine to help us, meanwhile they are not even near the Meningitis Belt. Yet, they are prepared to tackle an outbreak, even with the lowest probability. The Federal Government, the Ministry of Health and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control must work together as a unit to be able to have a plan of action to curtail any future outbreaks such as this.

In the meantime, all Nigerians must also do their part to ensure they stay safe. Below are a few prevention tips;Make sure you stay in well ventilated areas and avoid overcrowded rooms.Avoid close contact or kissing anyone with respiratory infections such as coughing, sneezing etc Practice good hand hygiene by washing hands frequently.

It is essential that we acquaint ourselves with the associated signs and symptoms because though meningitis may be fatal, it can be treated, as long as there is early detection and rapid intervention.

Disclaimer: The medical information provided on here by Dr. Nini Iyizoba is provided as an information resource only. This information does not create any patient-physician relationship and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.




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