The Minister of State Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, has in Wednesday’s chat with State House correspondents in Presidential Villa, Abuja, said the Federal Government was caught napping by the outbreak of Type C meningitis. The latest outbreak has so far resulted to over 300 fatalities out of the 2,996 cases recorded in 16 states, and 94 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the country.
What did you discuss at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting?
I briefed council today on the Meningitis outbreak in the country and to allay the fears of Nigerians about the response of the ministry. there has been a very robust response of the ministry and the state governments of the concerned states along with the Nigerian center for disease control, Nigeria primary health care development agencies, World Health Organisation, UNICEF and other partners. What has caused this problem to be peculiar is that it is caused by a total different strand of the Meningitis germ. It is the Type C. This country before suffers Meningitis around this time of year when dry season is turning to raining season. In the area called the Meningitis belt that ranges all the way from Senegal down to Ethiopia, Eritrea. And the prevailing germ was the Meningecocus A. And the mass vaccines that has taken place all these years has led to almost total elimination of Type A. Type C has been very rear and this year it is the Type C that appeared. Unfortunately there is no cross immunization, if you are immune to Type A doesn’t make you immune to Type C. And because Type was very rear the availability of vaccines was been very meager relatively. We have mobilise vaccines come in from all corners, 500,000 units doses of vaccines are being distributed and they have started vaccination campaign already. Government is also getting 826,000 units which are being shipped from Europe to us within the next fear days. The most affected states have been Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina and together they have about 85 per cent of the cases. As of today, there have been 2,996 cases in 16 states and 54 local governments. There have been 336 fatalities of which 141 have been confirmed by laboratory tests. There is reactive vaccinations going on already, there is social mobilization going on, teams are working in various states affected particularly the most affected ones. There are two treatment centers being set up in every local government and lumber puncture kits have been distributed so that doctors can take samples to laboratory for testing. There are cases of field epidemiologists who are doing findings and contact tracing in other to interrupt the spread of this epidemic. So in other to alley the fear of Nigerians we want to make it clear that this is not a sign of the failing of the system, it is a fact that nature played a very different stroke this time that caught everybody off guard.
How expensive is the vaccines and how are you funding it?
The vaccines are extremely expensive to make and if you acquire and store and you don’t use, it might expire and is bad business. So companies make the vaccines on request and on demand and they store just as much as they calculate will be uses. So the Type C was not very much in demand but right now this present epidemic has led to a big demand. Like I said before 500,000 was gathered from all over the place with the help of WHO and another 826,000 is on its way which is given to us free of charge from Europe and the ministry has placed order for additional two million doses. As the situation goes on we will be able to determine if we need to increase the order or if this one will be sufficient. You don’t want to order more than you need because there all have limited life span but on the other hand you need to have more of these vaccines to be able to take care of the epidemic. Right now it seems there is a control going on; it is beginning to decrease in Sokoto. State, Zamfara is still trying to even out and we hope that with the reactive vaccinations going on we shall be able to bring the epidemic to a gradual halt.
The Nigeria Meteorology Authority had hinted that there will be more heat this year, was that not enough warning to get you prepared to avert the epidemic?
Yes, it is true there was a signal that this thing had started in Niger and was going to enter the country. Like I said before, it was the Type A that we have known that has worried us in the last years but the Type C came this time as a bit of a surprise because that wasn’t the pattern in the past. So, the preparedness for treatment was very much on ground but the preparedness for vaccines could not have been predicted until we begin to diagnose and do tests and discover that this is a different strand from what we had before and that the immunity you had before against Type A will not work against Type C. There is largely immunity against Type A in the country at the moment. If it had been Type A, we would not have seen an epidemic of this nature.
Does the federal government have the same view as the state governor that said God decided to punish us with Type C Meningitis because of our sins?
The federal government does not have views of that nature and I am not sure the state government can really continue to make that statement. When things happen, yes you can begin to look this way and that way for the cause of it but like I said nature played us unfortunate stroke but that is not to say we committed sin or anything. It does happen that things occur out of the blues.