The last thing the people of Nigeria need is more suffering but unfortunately it has come their way in the form of a meningitis outbreak that has taken more than 300 lives since the onset in December 2016. This outbreak has already doubled what was previously recorded as ‘the worst outbreak’. That previous epidemic took 156 lives in 2009. In addition, this event is the meningitis C strain, where the vaccine is very costly ($50 per treatment) and not as widely available. All this happening while Nigeria is still reeling from Boko Haram, and attempting to rebuild and recover.
So, what exactly is meningitis?
There are several different kinds of meningitis: bacterial, fungal and viral, all with varying degrees of severity and physical impact. Viral meningitis is the most common form, and the least deadly thankfully. Meningitis C, that is affecting Nigeria, is bacterial, and as with all bacterial versions of the disease, is a more severe and serious infection, that can result in death. The symptoms can begin with fever or headaches and can escalate quickly if left untreated. The most susceptible population is the under 30 segment, with the very young at the most risk. The bacteria thrive and spreads in damp and over-crowded conditions. Unfortunately, these conditions are very common in many parts of Nigeria. Extreme dampness extends from November through April during the rainy season in most parts of Nigeria, and overcrowding is a rampant problem since so many thousands have been driven out of their homes due to the terrorism of Boko Haram.
How is the government trying to control this outbreak? The first step important, and logical step is education for its citizens. Helping them understand some of the causes, and then how, and when, to seek treatment. This is crucial, especially in some areas where it is believed that witchcraft is the cause for the illness, and life-saving measures may not be taken. Unfortunately, even knowing how to avoid some of the key contributors to the spread of the disease (damp, over-crowded situations), does not make it any easier for most Nigerians to avoid them since this is a reality of life for many of the citizens. It is however helpful to recognize the symptoms and encourage those affected to get themselves or loved ones to a treatment center immediately.
The real prevention strategy is of course vaccination, and a huge undertaking is in progress to inoculate hundreds of thousands of citizens, but this is not an easy task. As previously noted the vaccine needed for this strain is very costly and not widely available. Nigeria did petition the World Health Organization, and 500,000 doses were released for immediate use, but many more are needed. As of April 4th, the Nigerian government and many of the supporting agencies have been mobilized into an ‘Incident Management’ model that includes the creation of an ‘Emergency Operations Center’, all reporting into the Minister of Health to ensure that the crisis is handled in the most effective and efficient way, and it is believed that over 800 thousand more doses of vaccine will be delivered to the Nigerian government from Great Britain very shortly.
Leaders in many states have asked for prayers to end the outbreak, and although the Nigerians will certainly receive many prayers from around the world, so much more is needed to truly quell this crisis.