It has been over a century since the first outbreak of Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM) epidemic occurred in Nigeria. And just as it is today, the first outbreak also emanated from the northern parts of the country – Zungeru to be precise, and reported in 1905 in the Journal of Tropical Medicine by McGahey. Though the first outbreak of the disease has no detailed accounts of it recorded safe to say that the epidemic was widespread – extending as far as Yola which is on the fringes of the North-East of Nigeria about 500 miles away east of Zungeru. In this first occurrence about 20,000 people were affected in which many thousands of deaths were recorded.
There is no gain saying the fact that the meningitis epidemic that has been sweeping through the country recently took the health authorities by surprise. But with the advantage of hindsight one would have thought that we would have been prepared and better equipped to deal with the disease. The history of meningitis in Nigeria is a well known one and so it becomes unthinkable that at this stage Nigeria would still be caught napping at the attack of a very familiar foe.
Sequel upon this, a one-day workshop by the Nigeria Immunisation Financing Task Team (NIFT) Advocacy Subcommittee recently held to deal with the recurrent issue of sustainable financing of Immunisation in the country. NIFT is advocating an action plan on local vaccine production through the Ministry of Science and Technology, a position it had assumed since November of 2016. Thus there is an urgent need to adequately fund the health sector while ensuring at the same time the commencement of local production of the necessary vaccines that would be needed from time to time to combat infectious diseases such as CSM, etc.
Recently also, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) spoke in a similar vein, reminding all stakeholders of the urgency of this matter especially following Nigeria’s removal from the list of countries benefiting from international donor agencies after the economy was re-based in 2015. It has therefore become increasingly urgent to up the ante in local funding so as to sustain the immunisation drive in the country.
And so we are joining our voice with all stakeholders even as the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria recently re-echoes the call to the federal government to pay attention to local production of vaccines. Apart from saving the country huge foreign exchange, intensifying efforts in local vaccines production will further go to provide home-grown solutions to our peculiar health challenges. Underscoring this point, facts on ground show that funding needed for immunisation will be more than quadruple by 2026, rising from $85 million to $378 million wherein nearly eight million children are born each year.
With the needed cost standing at about 14,000 Naira to fully immunise a child, and only 25% of this cost as at today is being financed by the Nigerian government, things could really get critical. And so there is a need to intensify efforts at routine immunisation which has actually helped the country to reduce the spread of vaccine preventable diseases in recent times such as polio.
It has become important to develop a sustainable local funding mechanism therefore for immunisation, but this can only be perfectly remedied through local production of the needed vaccines. It is highly lamentable that at this stage of our development we have sat to watch the collapse of the only local Vaccines Production Centre we have in Yaba, Lagos State. The current meningitis challenge is a wake-up call on government to pay serious attention to emerging and re-emerging diseases.
The meningitis type C currently ravaging the country leaving many deaths on its trail could have easily been avoided; it calls for very serious public health awareness campaign for the purpose of disease prevention. It is high time we updated our skills on laboratory diagnosis of all infectious agents so that none escapes detection and create devastation to hapless Nigerians. We think our focus should be on research and development with emphasis on local vaccine production.