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Scientists to develop vaccines as coronavirus becomes more infectious

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• Lassa fever kills 29 in 11 states
• Why disease spreads, by NMA

To stem the spread of the killer coronavirus, scientists under the aegis of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), have announced the initiation of three programmes to develop vaccines against the infection.

China’s National Health Commission warned on Sunday that the deadly virus was becoming more infectious and carriers of the disease could pass it on even if they showed no symptoms.Nearly 2,700 people in China have been infected and over 80 killed by the disease, which originated in the city of Wuhan. Cases have now been reported across the globe, including in Thailand, Australia, United States and France.

The Director of Communications and Advocacy, CEPI, Rachel Grant, in an email to The Guardian said the coalition had moved with great urgency and in coordination with the WHO, who is leading the development of a coordinated international response, to promote the development of new vaccines against the emerging threat of the coronavirus nCoV-2019. Grant said the novel virus represented the first new epidemic disease of note to emerge since CEPI’s founding at Davos in 2017, with the express intent that it should be ready to respond to epidemics rapidly and effectively, wherever they emerge.

She said the programmes would leverage rapid response platforms already supported by the organisation as well as a new partnership. According to her, the aim is to advance the nCoV-2019 vaccine candidates into clinical testing as quickly as possible.

Grant said the nCoV-2019 vaccine development efforts would build on existing partnerships with Inovio (Nasdaq: INO) and The University of Queensland (located in Brisbane, Australia). In addition, CEPI announced a new partnership with Moderna, Inc., (Nasdaq: MRNA) and the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

She said all of these were pioneering technologies designed to speed up the development of vaccines against emerging threats such as nCoV-2019.

CEPI is an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations, launched at Davos in 2017, to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics. The initiative has reached over $750 million of its $1 billion funding target. CEPI’s priority diseases include Ebola virus, Lassa virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, Nipah virus, Rift Valley Fever and Chikungunya virus.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CEPI, Richard Hatchett, said: “Given the rapid global spread of the nCoV-2019 virus, the world needs to act quickly and in unity to tackle this disease. Our intention with this work is to leverage our work on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus and rapid response platforms to speed up vaccine development.

“There are no guarantees of success, but we hope this work could provide a significant and important step forward in developing a vaccine for this disease. Our aspiration with these technologies is to bring a new pathogen from gene sequence to clinical testing in 16 weeks – which is significantly shorter than where we are now.”

The Consular General of China in Lagos, Chu Maoming, has assured Nigeria and the rest of the world that his country attaches great importance to ending the outbreak of the coronavirus in China and to exterminate the disease as well as ensuring that it does not spread to other parts of the world.

Maoming gave the assurance at the weekend during the first Chinese New Year Temple Fair in Lagos which attracted a lot of dignitaries, including the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwoolu and his predecessor and Minister for Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola.
“We will fight the disease until we see that it is defeated, we will not rest on our oars. We have full confidence that with the support of Nigeria and other nations, the virus would soon be a thing of the past,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Environment, Dr. Mohammad Abubakar, has said that following the rapid spread of Lassa fever in 11 states, the dreaded disease may become endemic in Nigeria.Abubakar, who stated this yesterday at a world press conference in Abuja, said: “We are currently experiencing Lassa fever outbreak in several parts of the country with reported cases of fatalities.”

According to him, the latest report from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) released on January 25, indicates 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths in the 11 states of Edo, Ondo, Ebonyi, Delta, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, Ogun, Abia, Kano and Enugu. “Out of the confirmed casualties, 89 percent are from Ondo, Edo and Ebonyi states.”

The minister said that before the recent epidemic, the ministry had taken proactive measures to improve the general sanitation and hygiene situation in the country.“In 2019, sanitation desks were established in 36 states to coordinate the programme and related activities, liaise with local government environment departments and report back to the ministry.

“We are responding to the increasing number of Lassa fever cases across the country, by sensitising the public on preventive and control measures to avert further outbreak and spread.”He added that in 2019, they worked with the World Health Organisation and the NCDC to carry out environmental sanitation response activities in Edo and Ondo states by distributing equipment and chemicals.
“Lassa fever virus is transmitted by rodents, which can be found in our environment, including homes, motor parks, offices and even places of worship. This contributes to the risk of spread in Nigeria,” he stressed.

In response to the increasing number of Lassa fever cases across the states, the NCDC told journalists that it had activated a national Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) on January 24, 2020 to coordinate response activities.

The EOC will be manned by representatives of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Federal Ministry of Environment, WHO, United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and other partners.

Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the centre would continue to support states in strengthening their preparedness and response capacity.The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) said the current outbreak of Lassa fever across the country was a reflection of the abysmally low level of preparedness in handling infectious diseases, especially viral hemorrhagic fever at all levels of healthcare delivery.

According to the association, the frequency of the outbreaks also gives credence to the deplorable state of healthcare delivery in Nigeria.The President of the NMA, Dr. Francis Faduyile, in a statement yesterday in Abuja, stressed the need to strengthen institutional infection prevention and control measures and preparedness with periodic capacity building, and to build more diagnostic and treatment centres across the country in order to effectively combat the dreaded Lassa fever.

“We appeal to health authorities at all levels to prioritise the capacity building of healthcare professionals on standard infection prevention and control measures, and ensure the provision of basic disinfectants and appropriate personal protective equipment in healthcare facilities.” He urged stakeholders to intensify the ongoing public enlightenment campaign and ensure that all Nigerians, especially those at the rural communities, are educated on preventive strategies and prompt care seeking.

According to him, Lassa fever is a viral hemorrhagic disease caused by the Lassa fever virus which is endemic in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. “The rodents are the natural reservoir of the Lassa fever virus, and transmission primarily occurs through contact with its excreta and blood and consumption of contaminated food items.”

Two cases of the disease have been confirmed by the Osun State government. Addressing a joint press conference yesterday in Osogbo, the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Rafiu Isamotu, and the Special Adviser to the governor on Public Health, Mr. Olasiji Olamiju said that two patients affected by the fever were receiving treatment at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTHC) complex in Ile-Ife and the Wesley Guild Hospital, Ilesa.

Also, there was tension in Calabar yesterday over a suspected case of Lassa fever at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH).A source in the hospital told journalists that the management had sent samples taken from the patient to the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo State for analysis.

It was learnt that three days ago, two patients with similar symptoms of Lassa fever were admitted separately into the accident and emergency unit of the hospital. The source said some patients and their families were panicking after the news of patients with possible case of Lassa fever got to them.

When contacted, the Chief Medical Director, Prof Ikpeme Ikpeme, confirmed the news but said it had not been confirmed.The management of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH), Nnewi, Anambra State declared readiness to tackle any outbreak of the fever in the state.The Chairman of the Medical and Advisory Committee (CEMAC), Dr. Joseph Ugboaja, told journalists yesterday at the Nnewi Teaching Hospital complex that the medical staff were ready to contain any outbreak of the epidemic in Anambra.


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