NAN – The Federal Government says it will soon begin testing on a new potential vaccine to prevent the outbreak and spread of Lassa fever virus in the country.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, disclosed this to the Senate Committee on Health headed by Sen. Lanre Tejuoso on the latest outbreak of the disease in Nigeria.
Adewole put the current number of cases at 129, adding that there is no preventing vaccine but early detection would guarantee better chance of survival.
“We will concentrate on prevention because currently there is no vaccine, but as of today I have been notified of a candidate vaccine which we will put through chemical trial to find out if it would work.
“We call it a candidate vaccine and we would want to run it through trials and that takes some time.
“Hopefully we will do that this year, once we consider it to be effective and safe then we put it to use.
“If it works then that means that we would be able to immunise people in the affected areas but for now we will continue with our surveillance,” he said.
The minister said that the vaccine was co-developed by some Nigerians.
He described the current outbreak as a national embarrassment because although there were about 1,723 cases in 2012, the percentage death rate of the current outbreak was higher.
The minister said that the virus would have been defeated by now if the there was the political will to implement a roadmap designed in 2012 to forestall future occurrence.
“In 2012 we recorded 1,723 cases, after that, because of the severity, the post Lassa fever outbreak workshop took place and an action plan to ensure this will never happen again was put in place.
“But this action plan was never implemented because it was never funded.
“We will dust the old plan, modernise it and look at it from the political perspective; what can we do to provide leadership, to provide support.
“We can assure you that we are not going to sleep, we will remain at work, we are actively moving across the country,” he assured.
He said that the ministry was putting in place a multi-sectorial comprehensive national response to make sure that Lassa was buried once and for all.
He added that the virus had been a yearly occurrence with 400 cases recorded in 2014, although not as publicised as the current outbreak.
He again cautioned against food drying practices, urging people to adopt drying on the roofs than on the roadsides as commonly practiced.
On the recent death of a victim at the National Hospital in Abuja (NHA), Adewole said that the ministry was investigating the hospital where the victim was first treated for one week.
He said that the Abuja victim actually came from Plateau because he was ill and landed in a private hospital where he was kept for about a week before he was referred.
He said that the deceased was only referred to the NHA when he was already unconscious and therefore died 24 hours later.
“It is unfortunate because if we had picked this man earlier on, we would have been able to put him on medication and he could have been alive today.
“The situation which happened in that private hospital I have asked our people to investigate.
“We will sanction the doctor or the proprietor if we find any act of negligence on his or her part,” he said.
He prayed the senate to be willing to approve money for the ministry to execute its projects on preventing Lassa fever and other possible outbreaks.
Besides, the minister said that the ministry would be working on revamping 10,000 primary health care centres.
“We are working on a comprehensive plan to put life into 10,000 Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) across the country on the basis of one PHC per political ward.
“Since a ward comprises about 10,000 people, we think we will be able to reach a significant number of Nigerians through this approach and we will be looking at 100 million people.
“That will take care of some of the challenges, we are also looking at facilities to provide 24 hours facilities; this will enable us to beat these cases.
“With this, you will not treat malaria for one week, if you treat for 48 hours and no response, you will be sent to the next level of healthcare,” he said.
In his remark, the Chairman of the committee pledged that the Senate will be willing to approve money for the health of Nigerians, not just for Lassa but for other ailments.