The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, has expressed concern about rising cases of deaths and ill-health following the outbreak of meningitis in some parts of the country.
At least 282 deaths have so far been recorded across five states due to the disease.
The Acting Executive Secretary of the commission, Oti Ovrawah, said in a statement by the agency that relevant stakeholders must act fast to avoid further loss of lives to meningitis.
Ms. Ovrawah noted that steps must be taken urgently to contain the outbreak. She emphasised that the Federal Ministry of Health and its counterparts in the states should, as a matter of urgency, take immediate and proactive steps through vaccination to protect citizens.
Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, said on Thursday that 1,966 suspected cases have been recorded while 109 have been confirmed and being treated since the outbreak of the disease in February.
STATES WITH OUTBREAK
The outbreak of the disease has affected states like Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi and Niger, Kano, as well as the capital, Abuja.
According to Mr. Ihekweazu, Zamfara has the highest number of confirmed cases of 44, followed by Katsina with 32, Sokoto 19, Kebbi 10 and Niger 4 confirmed cases.
The Kano government also said it has 20 suspected and four confirmed cases.
To curtail the spread of the epidemic, the Sokoto State Government while giving update on the epidemic in the state, said it purchased assorted drugs, consumables and other logistics, to curb the epidemic in the last ten days.
The State’s Commissioner for Health, Balarabe Kakale, also warned the general public to discountenance traditional belief of witchcraft as a cause of febrile illness and neck stiffness, saying they are signs and symptoms of Cerebro Spinal Meningitis, CSM.
He said following the outbreak of CSM, the state government declared a state of high alert on the health sector on March 20 and the Ministry of Health had deployed no fewer than 150 medical personnel, comprising medical doctors, nurses and other medical professionals across the state.
The teams were also provided with adequate drugs, medical equipment, ambulances and other logistics, he said.
According to Mr. Kakale, the state government will soon commence the mass vaccination of over 700,000 children and adults, aged one to 30 years, against meningitis.
“The outbreak has been brought under total control by efforts of different health agencies in the state and a massive public enlightenment campaign which have resulted in a massive turn out of patients into our health facilities in the affected areas, who will have remained at home.
“This in turn led to the treatment of all the suspected cases of meningitis and other patients with non contagious, febrile illnesses like malaria. The development had led to an abrupt decline and a possible halt in all CSM-related morbidity and mortality in the state” he said.
Also, the Kano State government said it has strengthened surveillance after recording cases of CSM and Lassa fever in some local government areas of the state.
The Commissioner for Health, Kabiru Getso, said the outbreak has also led to government taking urgent measures to ensure proper control.
He said 20 suspected cases of meningitis were reported in eight local governments of Dala, Tarauni, Kano Municipal, Tudun Wada, Gwale, Bebeji, Ungogo and Kumbotso but only four of the cases have been confirmed.
“The state government has therefore intensified efforts to control the situation. In line with this, the state government has approved the sum of N19 million to mount an aggressive response to combat these diseases.’’
Mr. Getso further revealed that the state has reactivated its Rapid Response Team to respond to such cases, adding that drugs and other items were procured for the team.
He also stated that help lines have been opened to control the situation, just as sensitisation on the diseases’ early signs has also commenced in the media.
The Yobe State government said it has suspected cases of meningitis in Fika and Nguru Local Government Areas of the state.
Bello Kawuwa, the state Commissioner for Health, confirmed that the cases are under investigation.
“We are still investigating the cases to determine whether they are CSM; the outcome of the investigation will provide us with the true position,” he said.
Mr. Kawuwa said medical teams have been deployed to the affected areas to access and control the situation.
“We are on top of the situation and we are doing everything possible to control the cases in the two local government areas,” he said.
It was also gathered that officials of the World Health Organisation have joined the state medical team to check the situation.
Meanwhile, Humphrey Okoroukwu, a Deputy Director Public Health, Health and Human Services in the FCT, Abuja, where the death of four children suspected to be related the disease has been recorded, said meningitis is associated with hot weather and normally occurred between November and March or April annually.
He, however, urged the public to report to the nearest hospital on noticing any health challenge during this period.
“There are basic things you need to do to prevent or control the disease.
“One of such is environmental measure which has to do with ensuring ventilation especially in crowded areas like slums where the living condition is really poor.
He said the Abuja authorities, prior to the season, embarked on sensitisation about the disease among surveillance officers in the area councils.
He said with the support of WHO, 12 officers were trained last week on active surveillance.
“Usually we do not wait till there is outbreak before we act because we know that the disease occurs seasonally between November and March or April.
“We start early to prepare because FCT is surrounded by high risk states like Niger, Nasarawa and Kogi that is why we always prepare ahead.
“The health educators are also in the area councils creating awareness about this disease and letting the people know how to prevent outbreak of the disease, the control measures.
“We have started mass vaccination which is on-going now in all parts of FCT starting with the IDP camps and other high risk communities like Durumi,’’ he said.
“Ventilation is key, keeping the environment clean is very important and prompt visit to the hospital, access the facilities being provided like vaccination which is ongoing. People should avail themselves of the ongoing opportunity and go enmass to get vaccinated against the disease in the territory,” he added.
Mr. Okoroukwu explained that the disease has incubation period of three to four days or two to 10 days as the case may be.
Experts say the symptoms of meningitis are similar to those of malaria and include fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, high irritability, reacting to light, and stiffness of the neck at the latter stage.
Mr. Okoroukwu noted that though research has proven that everybody is at risk of the disease considering their environment, people of age one to 29 are mostly at risk of the disease.
Mr. Ihekweazu of the centre for disease control, however, explained that a new strand of meningitis called “stereotype C” has emerged in place of the previous known type “stereotype A”, which has disappeared. He said there was no commercially available vaccine for this new type “C” meningitis yet.
He said that the centre had deployed a response team to the affected states to vaccinate the residents and control further spread of CSM.
He also said that there is an inter-agency response supporting the states to contain the outbreak through the primary mode of vaccination.
Ms. Ovrawah of the rights commission said important attention must be given to those living in the savanna region of the country, as the region maintained high atmospheric temperature which made residents prone to the spread of meningitis.
She implored the affected states of Zamfara, FCT and Katsina, as well as other states to quickly set up a task force of medical experts to render professional assistance and advice to affected persons.