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Nigeria, seven others to begin Ebola vaccine trial

By Emeka Anuforo, Abuja
20 May 2015   |   2:05 am
NIGERIA is one of eight African countries where clinical trials of a vaccine for the Ebola virus disease will soon commence.
Fidelis Nwankwo

Fidelis Nwankwo,

• WHO to set up fund
• Funerals worsen Guinea cases
• Meningitis kills more than 400 in Niger Republic 

NIGERIA is one of eight African countries where clinical trials of a vaccine for the Ebola virus disease will soon commence. The others are Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cameroun, Ghana, Mali and Senegal.

Nigeria’s Minister of State for Health, Fidelis Nwankwo, who disclosed this when he addressed the 68th World Health Assembly in Geneva yesterday, also canvassed the country’s quest to become one of the hubs for the proposed African Centres for Disease Control (CDC).

The African CDC is expected to, among other things, help African countries effectively monitor public health, respond to public health emergencies, address complex health challenges, and build needed capacity.

Also, World Health Organisation (WHO) is setting up a $100 million contingency fund to ensure that it will not be “overwhelmed” by a major crisis again as it was with Ebola.

The WHO and its Director-General, Margaret Chan, have come under fire for the slow response to West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, which began in Guinea in December 2013 but was not declared an international public health emergency until August 2014. Nwankwo told the Assembly: “We are also stepping up research into this disease.

With the successes of ‘sped up’ safety trial conducted by the National Institutes of Health among 20 American Volunteers, further clinical trials of the ChAd3-ZEBOV, GSK Ebola Vaccine, are underway in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cameroun, Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Nigeria at various stages.

“As you are aware, Nigeria was one of the countries that were hit by the Ebola virus disease outbreak, but also became the first to be certified Ebola virus disease free by the WHO on the 20th of October 2014.

The story and the success the country recorded in containing the Ebola virus disease outbreak remains a remarkable feat and a milestone in encouraging a world so seriously challenged that it is indeed possible to contain the EVD.

“Our most critical success factor remains the unprecedented political leadership, a command and control structure and rallying of partners around same. It was a time of solidarity.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and other partners rallied around us and in the spirit of that solidarity and support, Nigeria offered support to her neighbours who were in the throes of the outbreak.

Nigeria sent over 250 volunteers to Liberia and Sierra Leone, the largest contingent of the AU mission, and these Nigerian volunteers played a great role in containing the epidemic.

“In addition to the strides in Ebola containment, Nigeria remains fully committed to the eradication of poliomyelitis within our borders. We are making unprecedented progress and have successfully interrupted polio transmission in the last 10 months, having recorded zero cases in 2015.

We are poised and committed to stay vigilant and to continue to push our efforts at interrupting polio until it is eradicated from the country. These achievements are in spite of the security challenges we have faced as a nation.

We have deployed innovative and effective methods such as the use of hit and run, immunisation camps etc to come this far. With these challenges being addressed more effectively, and unreached population of IDPs now within reach and mingling, we must not only sustain but increase intervention and vigilance. I therefore urge all our partners to continue to support our efforts.”

The minister noted that Nigeria was putting in place all the requisite infrastructure for the development of a resilient health system. He gave further details on the implementation of the National Health Act signed into law last year.

His words: “It is therefore with pride that I inform this august assembly that Nigeria now has a National Health Act (NHAct 2014), signed in October last year, and is without doubt, one of the greatest legacies of the President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan administration in the Nigerian Health sector.

The Act has given legal backing to the Nigerian Health system; specifying all the key players, roles and responsibilities, standards etc for improved health outcomes. Coming at a time when the world is negotiating its future in a post-2015 is even more significant and offers a great opportunity to become global players in health.

“The National Health Act provides the critical framework for the achievement of ‘Universal Health Coverage (UHC).’ The Act provides for the funding of Health Care through innovative sources including ‘the Basic Health Care Provision Fund.’

This will support the provision of access to quality health care services to all categories of people, especially the poor. It also makes provision for insurance cover for the most vulnerable and for emergencies.

This has necessitated the revision of key policies such as National Health Policy, the National Healthcare Financing Policy and the development of the second National Strategic Health Development Plan (NSHDP-2).

We are already expanding social insurance cover for the greater majority of our people. “We are making an investment case. Health is not only a social service but an investment destination.

Working with the Nigerian private sector, a number of Nigerian pharmaceutical companies have become WHO certified. As our health indices improve and more of our health sector businesses become global players, the place of health as an instrument for economic development and prosperity will be further strengthened.

“I do not ever again want to see this organisation faced with a situation it is not prepared, staffed, funded, or administratively set up to manage,” Chan told health ministers on Monday at the start of the WHO’s annual nine-day assembly. “I plan to complete these changes by the end of the year.”

Chan, a former health director of Hong Kong at the helm of the WHO since January 2007, said that WHO had been “overwhelmed” by the Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Asked later by a reporter whether she had considered resigning or had been asked to, she replied: “The answer is no. Nobody ever asked me.

The buck stops with me. As a responsible leader you need to learn lessons and make the right changes.” Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the WHO’s 194 member states that the organisation must streamline management to respond quickly to crisis like the “Ebola catastrophe.”

“We ought to have reacted far earlier,” she said. “I am convinced that if we act faster and have a clear command structure in place, we will be better equipped to combat a crisis like Ebola next time that happens,” Merkel said. “The WHO is the only international organisation that has universal political legitimacy on global health issues.

This is why it is so important to render its structures more efficient.” Guinea has seen a spate of new Ebola cases due to transmissions at funerals, a worrying sign as it seeks to stamp out the epidemic, a health official has said.

Liberia became the first of the three hardest-hit countries to be declared free of the virus this month, completing a 42-day period without a case. Guinea and Sierra Leone reported nine confirmed cases in the week to 10 May, the lowest weekly total this year, WHO says.

Meanwhile, an outbreak of meningitis with “unprecedented features” is spreading rapidly in Niger, with a tripling of cases in the past two weeks, hundreds of deaths so far this year and vaccines in short supply, the World Health Organisation said.

The outbreak is predominantly caused by serogroup C, which is normally found in wealthy countries and has never been of high concern in Africa, where it has been seen only in sporadic cases and localised outbreaks, the UN health agency said.

Vaccines against this form of the disease were in short supply and the outbreak was of particular concern because it was affecting more than one million people in densely populated urban areas including the capital, Niamey, its website said.

There were 6,179 suspected cases and 423 deaths reported between January 1 and May 12, including 4,099 in Niamey, where 226 people have died, the statement on the website said.

Meningitis is common across the “meningitis belt” from Senegal to Ethiopia in the dry season between December and June.

A 2009 outbreak caused more than 80,000 cases, and more than 200,000 cases, including 20,000 deaths between 1996 and1997, WHO said. Most of those cases were caused by serogroup A meningitis.

Vaccine campaigns were being carried out in eight of the 11 districts affected, including Niamey, and the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had sent teams of doctors and case management facilities, WHO said.