In recent times, the world has witnessed incessant reoccurrence of existing diseases and outbreaks of deadly novel ones. In less than two months, the popular Corona virus has led to the death of over 800 Chinese leaving millions of them quarantined in major cities. A Chinese Doctor leaked the first information about the virus was silenced by the government claiming that the cases are just pneumonia illnesses. Unfortunately, the virus eventually silenced the young doctor, claiming the lives of hundreds of unsuspecting citizens. Upon realizing the seriousness of the disease and after a series of praise singing spree, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Corona Virus, a public health emergency.
While many experts have condemned the one-party state for hoarding information about the virus, one cannot help but salute China’s exceptional response to a ruinous disease of such magnitude. Commendably, the Communist party erected a hospital, used drones equipped with speakers to force citizens to wear face masks, shut down 16 cities across the country, quarantining an estimated 50 million people. These have also earned encomiums from Public Health Experts.
At the home front, Lassa Fever is a life-threatening acute viral disease which has been ravaging Nigeria for decades. The Hemorrhagic virus was first discovered in 1976 in a village known as Lassa in Borno State, Nigeria. Lassa Fever cases are recorded all year round with the largest outbreak recorded in 2018 during which the fever spread to 18 states. A total of 1,893 cases were reported; 423 were laboratory-confirmed cases, among which 106 deaths were recorded (case-fatality rate 25.1%). The disease is endemic to a number of West African countries. Rough estimates suggest there are between 100,000 and 300,000 cases of Lassa fever each year in West Africa, and approximately 5,000 deaths due to the disease. In some areas of Liberia and Sierra Leone, 10 to 16 percent of all hospital admissions are due to Lassa fever, indicating a serious and widespread impact in those areas.
Like other viral diseases, Lassa fever can be transmitted by the urine or feces of Mastomys rats to humans, person-to-person contact via blood, tissue, secretions or excretions. Also, health workers may be infected by direct contact with blood, body fluids, urine, or stool of a patient at poorly equipped hospitals where sterilization and protective clothing is not standard.
According to the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, Nigeria has recorded 163 confirmed cases and 24 deaths from nine states across the country between January 1 and 19, 2020. Of the confirmed cases, 89 per cent are from three states of Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi.
The Infectious Disease Epidemiologist advised the public to ensure their environment is kept clean at all times, avoid contact with rodents, practice good personal hygiene and ensure proper storage of food to minimize risk of infection. He also admonished health care workers to maintain standard care precautions when managing patients.
While these advises are good, NCDC must intensify its Vaccine research and Development efforts for the disease. Lassa Fever has wreaked havoc in Nigeria for the past 50 years, it is high time the country produces a vaccine to prevent the contraction of Lassa Fever.
In commendation of NCDC for preventive measures that has been put in place, researchers were able to improve on the diagnosis of Lassa Fever in the country after the 2018 outbreak. Also, Nigeria held the Lassa Fever International Conference themed ’50 years of Lassa Fever: Rising to the Challenges’, which was graced by nearly 700 people from 15 countries across the globe. In a bid to provide a unified and well-organized structure for Lassa fever research in Nigeria, the National Lassa fever Research Consortium was inaugurated during the conference. This consortium is organized by NCDC and includes the three main treatment centres of Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Federal Medical Centre, Owo and Alex Ekwueme Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki and other partners. This three main treatment centres will begin Lassa fever epidemiological studies before the end of the first quarter of 2020 sponsored by CEPI.
It was reported that the National Lassa fever Consortium is working closely with the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to contribute to progress for a Lassa fever vaccine. Specifically, Ihekweazu was quoted to have said a Two-Phase I trials for a new Lassa fever vaccine have begun.
Over the last one year, NCDC has also partnered with the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), WHO, and Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) to establish a medical laboratory in the Federal Medical Centre, Owo to increase response activities in the state.
It is a known fact, backed with substantial evidence, that countries capabilities differ, however, the lines need to be thinned. China lost a significant number of citizens to a disease which emerged less than two months. Taking a cue from this, Nigeria needs to redefine and revamp her efforts toward discovering an efficient vaccine to a lingering disease of 50 years. Our patriotic and grossly insufficient healthcare workers should not have to put their lives on the line while trying to snatch citizens from the jaws of Lassa fever.