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.