Thousands of meningitis cases have been reported by the Nigerian health ministry in the northern states Zamfara, Kebbi, and Sokoto since November 2016, in one of Nigeria’s worst outbreak of the disease since it killed more than 2000 people in 2009.
Meningitis is the inflammation of tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord, which can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. It spreads mainly through kisses, sneezes, coughs and in close living quarters.
Nigeria has launched a mass vaccination campaign and started conducting house-to-house searches to identify those afflicted with meningitis for treatment, as the state and aid agencies race to contain the surge in infections in recent months.
“What is important now is that we provide an information vaccine to our people, on how the virus is contracted and warn against cross infection,” Yusuf Lawal, state coordinator for the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH2) programme told Reuters.
RACE AGAINST THE CLOCK
In mainly Muslim Zamfara, home to over 3.2 million people and known for its strict religious Sharia code, health centres are full, with makeshift wards made of bamboo setup outside of hospital grounds for sick and recovering patients.
“Initially the response from the state government was not appropriate,” said Bature Mannir, secretary of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).
State governor Abdulaziz Yari was reported by local media last month as saying the outbreak was God’s punishment for sin.
“However things changed and the (response) is yielding a very good result as the number of cases have drastically reduced,” Mannir added. “The state and all other stakeholders need to sustain the tempo until the situation is contained.”
The state government has set up a committee to distribute vaccines and drugs, while aid organisations like Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) are working with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to try to control the meningitis outbreak.
At least 1.3 million vaccines have been acquired, 500,000 of which were provided by World Health Organisation, according to the federal government.