Helpless over Lassa


We have on several occasions blogged about repeated episodes of Lassa fever in Nigeria, and the lack of progress on a coherent national approach in response to these outbreaks. We have advocated on several occasions for a federal agency that controls and monitors  infectious and chronic diseases, as modelled on the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US, or the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the UK, European Centre for Disease Control in the EU or the National Institute for Communicable Disease in South Africa etc. We have cried out every time there is another press conference held in response to a new outbreak, and the setting up yet another task force.

We are open to suggestions on what else we can do, because this is really not rocket science! How do we get out government to be interested in a programme that will not involve large infrastructure contracts? How?

Well….here is another report for you!

Daily Trust: A recent outbreak of Lassa fever killed seventeen people in Kebbi State. According to officials of the state Ministry of Health, they became aware of the disease when a test conducted by the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH)  confirmed it as Lassa fever. It is said to be currently prevalent in three local government areas of Kebbi State: Augie, Birnin Kebbi and Kalgo. Out of the seventeen fatal cases, the highest (9 confirmed cases) occurred in Birnin Kebbi.

But then, a recent article caught our attention….

The short article appeared in the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Disease journal, and featured a “case series” report of Lassa fever in Nigeria titled “Lassa Fever, Nigeria, 2005–2008“. And guess who was somewhere in the middle of the list of co-authors – no other than our present Minister of Health, Professor Christian Onyebuchi Chukwu.

In addition to the threat of emerging infectious diseases, outbreaks of the “old” disease such as cholera, cerebrospinal meningitis, measles, and yellow fever occur regularly in Nigeria. While we might have been socialized to believe that this is a normal part of life, this most definitely should not be the case. All these diseases combine to cause high morbidity, and mortality in the population. The one thing they all have in common, is that they are all entirely preventable by established means, and have been for several years.

While we invest considerable resources in the modernisation of our teaching hospitals, we need to remember the not so glamorous infectious diseases. Surveillance, outbreak investigation and control are public health functions representing the first link in a chain of activities aimed at countering infectious viral and bacterial agents. Prevention often involves simple means to interrupt the transmission process of an infectious agent. For these activities to be successful, we must think of them now…or we will pay the price later.

Professor Chukwu will you buck the trend? 

Maybe just maybe the interest shown in this area, through the publication above, is indicative of a deep understanding of the complexities of infectious disease control. We are hopeful.  

Phote credit – Vanguard Newspapers

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. Establish the office of the Surgeon General of Nigeria. He should not be a politician or card carrying member of a political party. He should be the chief medical officer of health of Nigeria. He should be the chief ‘implementor’ of the nations health policies and independent of the FMOH which lack the will and commitment to the type of idea you are propagating. They are not ready to work with experts in the various public health departments in the tertiary health institutions in Nigeria. Funds end up in organising seminars, workshops, conferences etc in FMOH and state ministries. Let us develop a Judiciary-like type of health care system where there is direction and someone that can be professionally held responsible for inaction(s) on infectious diseases outbreak
    Thank you
    Dr Orhue, N.L. mbbs, fmcph(member), fwacp
    Consultant Public Health Physician

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