BusinessDay

FG gets hard knocks over poor handling of Meningitis epidemic

..as NPHCDA says containment requires up to $1bn

Stakeholders are raising concerns over the Federal Government’s handling of cerebrospinal meningitis, ravaging some parts of the country.

This comes as the Federal Government has declared that it would gulp up to $1.1billion to procure vaccines against meningitis in the five most affected states.

Michael Asuzu, a Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of Ibadan, is of the view that the resurgence of the Meningitis Type C in Nigeria, which is different from Type A, may have worsened country’s level of preparedness to confront the epidemic.

“The Federal Government is already getting technical assistance from the World Health Organisation‎,WHO, and is making determined efforts to contain further spread of the disease,and ensure non-recurrence,” he said.

According to the health professional, Nigeria is used to the Cerebral Meningitis Type A which they have demonstrated capacity to handle in the past, but that there is insufficient vaccine for the Type C currently.

Nigerian government is scheduled to hold a meeting with the World Health Organization (WHO) representatives on Tuesday to identify further strategies in curbing the disease.

Currently, the government has accessed 1.3 million vaccines from the World WHO but not sufficient to address the threat posed by the spread of the disease in 16 states, prompting experts to call for a home grown solution that addressed the disease once and for all.

At an interactive session in Abuja on Monday with relevant agencies on the outbreak of meningitis, the Senate criticised the Federal Government for not taking proactive measures to control the disease.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases, Mao Ohuabunwa, called on the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and National Primary Health Care Development Agency to collaborate with states, citing how the immediate past government of Goodluck Jonathan collaborated with the Lagos State Government in stopping the spread of Ebola.

He therefore called for weekly update from the agencies on how they have been able to contain the disease.

Another member of the committee, Samuel Anyanwu, carpeted the government for its ‘ad-hoc’ approach to the issue.

“I’m very worried about the attitude of the government towards issues that have to do with health. This ad-hoc approach to issues is not the best for this country. It is important that a country like Nigeria should be ready for this kind of emergency than for us to go everytime there is an outbreak, we will call you here to ask how far you have been doing.  We need these agencies to be proactive because it does not help Nigeria that unless when we have an outbreak, we will start calling you.

“I believe that as very responsible and responsive agency, you must work ahead because we are talking about health”, the lawmaker said.

A Director in the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Emmanuel Odu, who stood in for the Director General, informed the committee that it would gulp up to $1.1billion to procure vaccines against cerebrospinal meningitis in the five most affected states of Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Kebbi and Niger.

He explained: “Why we do not stock vaccines against all the Cerotypes is that availability and approval by the international coordinating group, which will need to approve before it is approved to countries is dependent on the country situation and disease pattern. There has to be a confirmation of the outbreak based on international standard before the international coordinating group will approve for release.

“In addition to that, the cost is also another factor. As an example, to vaccinate a total population of 22million in the five affected states will cost $1.1billion; the cost of vaccines alone”.

On his part, the Director General, Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu, revealed that 328 deaths have been recorded so far with 2,524 cases.

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