TACKLING THE YELLOW FEVER OUTBREAK

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MONDAY EDITORIAL

The renewed outbreak is a wake-up call to be more proactive

Nigeria has been experiencing sporadic outbreaks of Yellow fever since September 2017 when the first case was confirmed in a seven-year old child in Ifelodun Local Government of Kwara State. But the latest reports, which indicate that there are suspected cases of the disease in no fewer than seven states of the country, is more disturbing. The affected states include Kogi, Anambra, Nasarawa, Zamfara, Edo, Benue and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. The renewed spike is a wake-up call for the federal government to be more proactive in dealing with the disease. 

Following the fatalities recorded in the course of last year’s outbreak which were in dozens, more than three million people were vaccinated in an initial emergency campaign, with the aim of quickly containing it. However, the virus continues to spread in parts of the country where people remain largely unprotected. That is why all the relevant stakeholders must join hands with the government this time around. 

Yellow fever is an acute viral disease of typically short duration. In most cases, symptoms include yellowness of the eyes, sudden feverchillsloss of appetitenausea, muscle pains particularly in the back, and headache. In about 15 per cent of victims, within a day of improving, the fever relapses, abdominal pain occurs, and liver damage begins, causing yellow skin. If this occurs, the risk of bleeding and kidney problems also increases. But fortunately, the disease is a completely vaccine-preventable one.

 

We must commend the  National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) for flagging off a large yellow fever vaccination campaign, targeting 26 million children and adults aged between nine months and 44 years) in Niger, Plateau, Borno, Sokoto, Kebbi and the FCT. We also commend the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), which has deployed a rapid response team to support some states with contact tracing, risk communications and management of yellow fever cases, leading to the setting up of a multi-agency yellow fever emergency operations centre, to coordinate the response.

 

Also, in its efforts to contribute to the capacity-building of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member-states in the area of preparedness and response to yellow fever epidemic, the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), in collaboration with NCDC is conducting a yellow fever simulation exercise in Lagos,

 

Since yellow fever is a completely vaccine-preventable disease and a single shot provides immunity for a lifetime, it is important that all Nigerians get vaccinated and encourage their families, and neighbours to do the same. An added advantage is that the vaccine is freely available in all primary health care centres in Nigeria.

 

Available information indicates that there is a global stockpile of vaccine meant for yellow feveroutbreaks. Since we live in the tropics, and cannot completely eliminate mosquitoes, prevention remains the most potent weapon against the disease. It is therefore trite that the common aphorism that prevention is better than cure should be embraced by all.

 

By accident of geography, Nigeria is one of the disease’s high risk countries in Africa, and is transmitted from an infected person to another through female mosquito bite. The federalgovernment should show readiness in ensuring local production of vaccines, as well as commit to establishing a reference laboratory in the country soonest to reduce the logistic challenges with sample transportation and laboratory turnaround time in the current outbreak across the country.

 

These steps, we believe, will ultimately reduce the response time and consequently the morbidity and mortality rates in the present situation. The current outbreak across the country is another sad commentary on the nation’s tepid health sector, and must be stopped from becoming another epidemic.