The Nigerian government on Wednesday explained some of the challenges it is facing in dealing with the meningitis outbreak across several states.
The government listed some of the challenges to include “extremely expensive” drugs, new strain of bacteria and short shelf life of the drugs usable to treat the strange strain of the microorganism causing the disease.
The Minister of State for Health, Osagie Ehanire, who gave the government’s stance, said there have been 2,996 cases of the disease in 16 states and 54 local governments across the country.
Mr. Ehanire said 336 people are believed to have died from the disease, and 141 of such have been confirmed by laboratory tests. Majority of the other dead victims are believed to have been buried before the cause of death could be clinically verified.
While addressing journalists after the meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, in Abuja, Mr. Ehanire said there has been a robust response by his ministry and the governments of the states concerned along with the Nigerian Center for Disease Control, NCDC; Nigeria Primary Health Care Development Agency; World Health Organisation; UNICEF; and other partners since the outbreak.
He said the challenge with the current outbreak was that it is caused by a new strain of bacteria, Type C, different from the well-known Type A strain.
“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, Eritrea. And the prevailing germ was the Meningococcus A,” he said.
He said mass vaccination over the years against the Type A virus had led to almost total elimination of the disease.
Mr. Ehanire said the Type C has been very rare and immunisation for one type does not work for the other.
“Unfortunately, there is no cross immunisation. 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.
The minister said so far, the country has “mobilised vaccines to come in from all corners; 500,000 units doses of vaccines are being distributed and they have started vaccination campaign already.”
He also said Nigeria is getting additional 826,000 units which will be shipped from Europe within the next few days.
Mr. Ehanire said, “The most affected states have been Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina and together they have about 85 per cent of the cases.”
He said there is reactive vaccination going on already in the affected states.
“There are two treatment centres being set up in every local government and lumber puncture kits have been distributed so that doctors can take samples to laboratory for testing.
“There are field epidemiologists who are doing findings and contact tracing in other to interrupt the spread of this epidemic,” he said
Vaccines are very expensive
The minister said the vaccines are “extremely expensive” to make and if acquired and stored without using, they may expire.
“So, companies make the vaccines on request and on demand and they store just as much as they calculate will be used.
“So, the Type C was not very much in demand; but right now, this present epidemic has led to a big demand,” he said.
Mr. Ehanire said the 826,000 doses being shipped to Nigeria was given to the country free of charge, while the ministry has placed an order for additional two million doses.
“As the situation goes on we will be able to determine if we need to increase the order or if this one will be sufficient.
“You don’t want to order more than you need because they all have limited life span, but on the other hand you need to have more of these vaccines to be able to take care of the epidemic.
“Right now, it seems there is control going on, it is beginning to decrease in Sokoto State and Zamfara is still trying to even out and we hope that with the reactive vaccinations going on we shall be able to bring the epidemic to a gradual halt,” he said.
Reacting to the assertion by the Governor of Zamfara State that God decided to punish Nigerians with Type C meningitis because of their sins, Mr. Ehanire said “the federal government does not have views of that nature and I am not sure the state government can really continue to make that statement.
“When things happen, yes you can begin to look this way and that way for the cause of it; but like I said nature played us an unfortunate stroke but that is not to say we committed sin or anything. It does happen that things occur out of the blues,” he said.