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Nigeria battles Lassa fever outbreak

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By Abraham Adekunle

NCDC has reported 476 cases and 84 fatalities across 23 states.

In the ongoing battle against infectious diseases, Nigeria finds itself grappling with a significant surge in Lassa fever cases. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) recently revealed alarming statistics, indicating a staggering toll on human lives and urging intensified efforts to combat the outbreak. As of February 18, 2024, the NCDC reported a distressing count of 476 confirmed cases of Lassa fever, resulting in 84 fatalities. This grim toll has spread across 84 Local Government Areas in 23 states throughout the country. With a case fatality rate standing at 18.6%, the severity of the situation underscores the urgent need for comprehensive intervention measures.

Dr. Jide Idris, the Director General of NCDC, conveyed these disheartening figures during a media briefing on the state of the Lassa fever outbreak. He underscored the gravity of the situation, emphasizing the need for swift action and collaborative efforts to stem the tide of the virus. The outbreak has triggered heightened vigilance in healthcare facilities across the nation, with reports emerging from various regions indicating the relentless march of the disease. Notably, the Kaduna State Ministry of Health alerted the NCDC to suspected cases of viral Hemorrhagic fever at the 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital in Kaduna. Prompt response measures were initiated in collaboration with local health authorities to investigate these cases thoroughly and implement robust response strategies.

Four out of six Lassa fever cases confirmed in Kano.

Confirming the virulent nature of the outbreak, Dr. Idris revealed that four out of six blood samples from suspected cases sent to the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital had tested positive for Lassa fever. This confirmation underscores the urgency of containment efforts and underscores the need for proactive measures to curtail further transmission. In addition to active case detection and management, efforts have been intensified to trace and monitor close contacts of affected individuals. Twenty-five individuals identified as close contacts are currently under surveillance and receiving prophylactic treatment to mitigate the risk of further transmission.

Recognizing the critical importance of community engagement in disease control efforts, state health ministries have activated their Incident Management Systems, leveraging various response pillars to enhance risk communication and community involvement. This multifaceted approach aims to empower communities with knowledge and resources to prevent and control the spread of Lassa fever effectively. Expressing solidarity with the families and loved ones of those who have succumbed to the disease, Dr. Idris reiterated the NCDC’s unwavering commitment to mitigating the impact of the outbreak. He emphasized the need for concerted action and urged health workers and the general public to remain vigilant and proactive in the fight against Lassa fever.

Urgent containment measures needed to curb spread.

As a response to the escalating crisis, the NCDC has mobilized resources and initiated a series of proactive measures to bolster the country’s capacity to manage and control the outbreak. Medical supplies essential for case management, infection prevention, and laboratory diagnosis have been distributed to Lassa fever treatment centres nationwide. Also, capacity-building initiatives targeting healthcare workers have been rolled out across all geopolitical zones, with a focus on enhancing preparedness, readiness, and response to Lassa fever outbreaks. The implementation of a pilot Lassa fever clinical management fellowship underscores the NCDC’s commitment to strengthening the healthcare workforce and enhancing clinical management capabilities.

Of course, the NCDC has intensified its social and behavioural change communication efforts, disseminating informative materials to all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). These materials aim to raise awareness, dispel myths, and promote positive health behaviours critical to mitigating the spread of Lassa fever within communities. Amidst the Lassa fever outbreak, Nigeria is simultaneously grappling with other disease outbreaks, including meningitis, measles, diphtheria, and cholera. The cumulative burden of these outbreaks underscores the formidable challenges facing the nation’s public health infrastructure and the urgent need for concerted action to safeguard the health and well-being of all citizens.

Related Article: Nigeria Lassa Fever cases surge in 2023

Finally in his closing remarks, Dr. Idris reiterated the government’s unwavering commitment to health security and emphasized the collective responsibility of all stakeholders in combating infectious diseases. He called upon the populace to embrace positive health behaviours and adhere to recommended preventive measures to mitigate the spread of Lassa fever and other infectious diseases. As Nigeria confronts this formidable public health challenge, concerted efforts, strengthened partnerships, and sustained vigilance remain paramount in the ongoing battle against Lassa fever and other emerging health threats.

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