Tuesday 17th October, 2017
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The embarrassing spread of meningitis

The embarrassing spread of meningitis

Nigeria is currently fac­ing the embarrass­ment of the rapid spread of meningitis disease in the country. Accord­ing to reports by the Federal Min­istry of Health, as at last week, there are a total suspected cases of 2,997 from 16 states of the federation, while the number of deaths arising from the disease is close to four hundred. So far, close to 22 million people are at risk of contacting the disease if urgent steps are not taken by the authorities. The type C meningi­tis otherwise known as the Ce­rebral Spinal Meningitis (CSM), which is the current disease rav­aging the country is believed to be the deadliest killer-type of meningitis. Incidentally, Nigeria is not new to this same Type C meningitis because it was first ex­perienced in the country in 2009 and claimed over 120 lives, while the same disease again revisited us in 2013 and 2015 respectively, recording equally the same fright­ening number of deaths.
According to medical science, Cerebral Spinal Meningitis is most often caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides. Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the meninges, the thin covering of the brain and spinal cord, which symptoms include stiff neck, high fever, rash, headache, vomiting, and confusion. CSM is most of­ten treatable with antibiotics ad­ministered upon hospital admis­sion and it is said that even with rapid diagnosis, 5-10% of patients typically die within 24-48 hours of symptom onset. The rapid spread of the disease is due to the ease in which the bacteria are transmitted as droplets of respiratory or throat secretions, through methods such as kissing, sneezing, coughing, and sharing of eating or drinking utensils.
What makes the current spread of meningitis in the country very embarrassing is that Nigeria is one of the four West African countries, in the sub-Saharan Africa, including Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali, that are in the “Meningitis Belt”, and experience seasonal epidemic outbreaks, as a result, ought to take preemptive or proactive measures to avert this seasonal calamity. The disease, as it is widely known, usually oc­curs during the dry weather. Dur­ing this period, dusty winds, cold nights, and large populations liv­ing in overcrowded conditions leave people vulnerable to respi­ratory infections and are among some of the reasons behind the Meningitis Belt’s high burden of meningococcal disease.
Unlike the explanations by Gov­ernor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State that the outbreak of the dis­eases is a direct punishment from God to the people of Nigeria for their various sinful acts, it is clear that the epidemic is the result of human failure to do the need­ful, and in this case the failure of the likes of the Governor to pro­vide early vaccination against the disease. This is why we blame the three levels of Government, particularly the Local Govern­ment administrations, which is responsible for primary health care services for not being proac­tive enough to avert the current spread of the meningitis by early vaccination of their people. Co­incidentally, the issue of health is contained in the concurrent list in our Constitution and what that means is that the three levels of Governments have concomitant responsibilities to tackle health services.
It is a known medical fact that aside from preventive vaccines administered to children, which provides protection to them for 3-5 years, preventative vaccine is also available, and is routinely rec­ommended for adolescents 11-18 years of age.
Even though the Federal Gov­ernment has stepped in to stem the tide of the spread of the dis­ease, we regret to say that the in­tervention is coming too late in the day. Nevertheless, it is com­mendable that the Federal Gov­ernment, had as at the weekend, dispatched an Outbreak Control Team made up of local and for­eign medical experts to the worst affected States of the North West region of the country, including Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Niger States and as well, has activated an Emergency Opera­tion Centre to manage the disease in the areas.
Gladly also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other International bodies such as the Bill Gates foundation and UNI­CEF are currently focusing and assisting on how to tackle the out­break in the country. According to reports from the Federal Ministry of Health, 800,000 doses of the vaccines for the cure of the type C meningitis has already arrived the country and are being rapidly de­ployed in the worst affected states.
We had expected from the this Government, nothing less than the emergency type of treatment, which the last regime deployed, that led to the cured and spread of the deadly Ebola disease when it occurred in Nigeria in 2014. Be­sides early mass vaccinations, the various Governments ought to have deployed early control mea­sures, which include enhanced epidemiological surveillance and prompt case management in areas involved in the outbreak. In ad­dition, it was imperative for the Governments to have intensified campaign and advocacy about the diseases, particularly on the need for people to live in well venti­lated houses and to avoid living in crowded environments.

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