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THE RETURN OF YELLOW FEVER
The health authorities could do more to tame the disease
The renewed spike of yellow fever is a wake-up call on the federal government and health authorities in the states to be more proactive in dealing with the disease. Between January and July this year, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), a total of 1,179 suspected cases of Yellow fever and 14 deaths were reported from 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). About 74 per cent of the reported cases were predominantly aged 30 years and below.
That the Yellow fever scourge is returning at a period the World Health Organisation (WHO) has rated Nigeria as country with the highest monkeypox death toll of confirmed cases in Africa makes it more disturbing. According to WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, there are now 524 confirmed cases and 12 deaths from Monkeypox across 11 African countries. The majority of cases are in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ghana. Of the 12 deaths, six occurred in Nigeria, four in Ghana, and two in the Central African Republic.
Following the fatalities recorded during the 2017 outbreak which were in dozens, more than three million people were vaccinated in an initial emergency campaign, with the aim of quickly containing Yellow fever. 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.
Fortunately, Yellow fever is a vaccine-preventable disease. 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 the country. It is also curable with vaccines known as 17D. Since we live in the tropics, and cannot completely eliminate mosquitoes, prevention remains the most potent weapon against the disease.
It is indeed a crying shame that Yellow fever still kills dozens of Nigerians every year. According to WHO, no human should die from preventable diseases, and Yellow fever is one of such. What appears to be the broad cause of the spike in cases of the disease is the country’s new focus on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
The interruption of regular mass vaccination campaigns has contributed mainly to the current resurgence of the disease. On the continent, the resurgence started in equatorial Africa, followed by Cameroon where no fewer than 173 fatalities mostly children under the age of 10 were recorded in 1990. The disease then moved to West Africa and since 1995 this has been the region most affected by Yellow fever. To control the spread, there is an urgent need to commence a massive reintroduction of the vaccination programmes, especially at childbirth. This should be done through enlightenment campaigns throughout the 774 local governments of the federation. All international travellers into Nigeria should also be advised to undergo vaccination before entering the country.
An epidemiologist with the NCDC, Adesola Yinka-Ogunyele had expressed concerns that the more children are unvaccinated, the more likely there will be outbreaks, especially at a time there is a lot of demand on the health sector. When it comes to health, a country is only as strong as its weakest link. It is a serious indictment on health authorities in Nigeria that in this day and age, many of our citizens are still dying from preventable diseases.