As part of activities to mark the World Meningitis Day in Abuja, the National Cerebrospinal Meningitis Technical Working Group Lead, Dr. Priscilla Ibekwe, said that meningitis is a serious public health problem and when compared to other vaccine preventable infections, Nigeria has not done very well in reducing meningitis compared to other vaccine-preventable diseases.
Speaking during an advocacy campaign at the Utako market, Abuja, Ibekwe said: “ We have nine years to go to make sure we kick out meningitis globally.” She urged Nigerians to always ensure cross ventilation in their houses, avoid overcrowded places, while good hand and respiratory hygiene should be practiced with good nutrition to boost our immunity to fight against infections including meningitis.
Ibekwe noted that experts and the scientific community are working to ensure that there are conjugate vaccines that will be effective enough to tackle the various strains of bacteria meningitis, adding that Nigeria was recording downward trend in meningitis cases and fatalities in the last few years.
According to her, the government wants to develop comprehensive services in health, linked up to the education sector, social service and other sectors, to ensure that we get great support around a survival of meningitis.
Ibekwe said, “The sad thing about meningitis is that it is a race against time. 50 percent of people who have meningitis will die if untreated.
Even when treated, 10 to 20 percent of them will have after effects such as deafness, loss of sight, loss of limbs, difficulty in concentrating, difficulty in learning, etc., and these are long-term. It affects the family, the child’s education, and when this child becomes an adult, what is his productivity?”
She explained that the most recent large-scale meningitis outbreak in Nigeria occurred between December 2016 and May 2017 during which a total of 14,280 suspected meningitis cases were reported across 23 of the 36 states.
Ibekwe noted that Nigeria has included meningitis into the routine immunisation across age group between 1-29 and conjugate vaccines are used to prevent the disease by integrating into national routine immunization, which has resulted to few cases of meningitis being recorded in the country.
“We have had immunization across age group among those that are susceptible, we have included it into our routine immunisation across age group between one-29. We now have very few cases of meningitis A but there are other strains but, we have the defeating meningitis global strategy. A lot of work is being done to ensure that we have more effective vaccines to address other strains of meningitis and bring to the barest minimum epidemics of meningitis and bring the fatality rate to less than five percent. The death rate has been about has been about 8.2 to 8.7 percent.
Ibekwe stated that about 10-20 percent of persons with meningitis have complications like deafness, loss of limbs, loss of vision, difficulty in learning, irritability, and behavioral problems which are long term and affects productivity, schooling and child’s social status.
She said that Nigeria plans to drastically reduce the rate of Meningitis in the country to less than thousand deaths.
Also speaking, Head of Risk Communication, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Yahaya Disu, said that there is need for stakeholders to ensure access to facilities to help prevent the disease.
He noted that persons who are affected by meningitis suffer some forms of deformities and require special care. “It is still endemic because most of the people affected by the disease don’t understand the roles they need to play stressing that the issues of hygiene are within the control of the people which the policy makers have the duty to ensure provision and equitable access to effective vaccine.”
Disu urged stakeholders to mobilise resources to assist in the fight against meningitis. He added that the defeating meningitis project is about everyone coming on board. “The highest global burden for Meningitis is recorded in the Meningitis Belt of Sub-Saharan Africa and it includes twenty-six states in Nigeria,” he said.