Nigeria’s Meningitis Outbreak: Update

A recent outbreak of meningitis in Nigeria has killed 269 people. There are 1,828 cases in 15 of the country’s 36 states, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.  According to the World Health Organization, about half the cases are children 5 to 14.  Meningitis is the inflammation of tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord.  Seasonal outbreaks such as this are attributed to cold nights, dusty winds, and dry weather, and are made worse by poverty, poor hygiene, and overpopulation.  There is extremely limited healthcare in rural regions where people often live on less than two dollars a day.  Unfortunately, such outbreaks are relatively common in that region of Africa, known as the meningitis belt, which stretches from the Sahel region to the Horn of Africa where outbreaks occur regularly.

Previously, in 2009, more than 2,000 people were infected and 156 people died from meningitis.  And in 2015, both Nigeria and neighboring Niger were hit by an outbreak. To compare this with a non-outbreak year — 33 people died of meningitis in 2016.

As of now, the five northern states, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, and the Federal Capital Territory, have been hit hard and qualify as an epidemic according to Olubunmi Ojo of the National Centre of Disease Control.  Nasier San-Gwarzo, director of disease control at the federal ministry of health, those states accounted for 1090 of the cases and 154 death. “Zamfara alone is 590 of the cases,” says Sani-Gwarzo.

The Ministry of Health is working closely with public health department and the Primary Health Care Development Agency.  They are also working with the World Health Organization, the U.N. Children’s Fund, and Medcins Sans Frontieres (also known as Doctors Without Borders).

They are working on awareness creation because “meningitis prevention is easier and better than cure,” says Dr. Ahmed Attah, a special adviser on health matters.  This awareness campaign will likely be done from radio messages and television commercials.

There are also efforts for immunization.  Vaccination is effective against meningitis.  However, according to Nigerian Minister of Health Isaac Adewole, this is a new strain from a neighboring country and thus requires a different vaccine than what they have currently.  Laboratory tests confirm the disease is the new type C strain.

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