The health authorities could do more to tame the killer disease

The recent outbreak of Meningitis with fatalities in excess of 400 people exposes the underbelly of our national health care service delivery. The states that are most hit by the outbreak of the disease included Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Niger, Kebbi, Jigawa, Gombe, Taraba, Yobe, Kano, FCT, Osun, Lagos and Cross River even though there may be other states with unreported cases. To make matters worse, the West African sub-region has now been declared Meningitis belt, as the disease swept across Niger, Togo, Chad, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Cameroun.

Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective organs and membranes with layers surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of Meningitis include headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck, loss of consciousness and fever. In most cases, Meningitis becomes intense and widespread during heat period and in areas where there is poor ventilation. Within the context of this new outbreak, it appears the federal government, particularly the Federal Ministry of Health, was unprepared. The deaths and cases recorded so far were clear indicators of a loophole in mitigating such crisis and epidemic.

The Minister of State for Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said last week that there have been 2,996 cases of the disease, with 336 deaths recorded, in 16 states and 54 local governments across the country. “This country before suffers meningitis around this time of year when dry season is turning to raining season; in the area called the ‎meningitis belt that ranges all the way from Senegal down to Ethiopia and Eritrea. And the prevailing germ was the Meningococcus A,” said Ehanire. The challenge, according to him, was lack of no cross immunisation. The current outbreak is said to be of the Type C variety. “If you are immune to Type A doesn’t make you immune to Type C. And because Type C was very rare, the availability of vaccines has been very meagre relatively,” he said.

Overall, we are appalled at the level of vulnerability Nigerians are exposed to, going by the catastrophic outcome of this outbreak. One, with the precautionary warning by the National Meteorological Agency, we believe the federal government should have expedited action in making Meningitis vaccines available. Two, there ought to have been some level of coordination between the health authorities in Abuja and that of the various states governments in taking preventive and proactive measures against this current outbreak of Meningitis. Three, we believe that the issue of hygiene ought to have been taken more seriously.

As has been explained, the disease is fatal and thrives more in areas where hygiene is lacking or low. We therefore expect a more robust campaign on hygienic environment in view of the dangers of Meningitis. The current problem arose basically because these steps and strategies were absolutely not followed or adhered to. That should be a wake-up call.

While we commend the efforts put so far in curtailing the disease, there is still need to do more. We call on the health authorities in Abuja to deploy more of their field officers and staff to the states where the disease is high. We also urge the government to do the needful in providing funds for vaccines without delay. Even as efforts are being made to stop further spread of this disease, the strategy to prevent outbreak of epidemics should be consistent. It is in this light that we call for the restructuring and better funding of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for efficient service delivery. The centre should be able to preempt outbreaks of diseases rather than acting as an emergency response outfit.