The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomes the announcement from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) of the end of the emergency phase of the 2019 Lassa fever outbreak following a joint epidemiological review by the NCDC, WHO and partners. WHO however calls on all partners to remain vigilant to better protect all Nigerians against the disease.
From 01 January to 19 May 2019, a total of 575 confirmed cases including 129 deaths were reported from 82 Local Government Areas (LGAs) across 21 states (Edo, Ondo, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Plateau, Taraba, FCT, Adamawa, Gombe, Kaduna, Kwara, Benue, Rivers, Kogi, Enugu, Imo, Delta, Oyo, Kebbi and Cross River).
Following an increase in the number of new cases reported since the beginning of the year, NCDC declared on 21 January 2019 an outbreak of Lassa fever- an acute viral haemorrhagic illness that occurs in West Africa transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces.
Since the beginning of the outbreak, WHO actively supported Nigeria and affected States in responding to the epidemic by mobilizing human, material and financial resources including piloting innovative interventions to help stop the spread of the disease.
In the early stages, WHO mobilized its network of field offices to assist State health authorities in active case investigation, community sensitization, surveillance and case management.
As the outbreak continued to spread, WHO Nigeria in collaboration with the WHO Regional Office for Africa (AFRO), and WHO Headquarters scaled up its response. The Organization allocated US$ 400,000 to support response activities and deployed international as well as local experts to the affected States. Together with National Rapid Response Teams, WHO experts were notably deployed in Taraba, Bauchi, Edo, Ondo, Kogi, Plateau and Kebbi states to assist federal and state authorities with coordination, active surveillance, case management, laboratory investigation, provision of supplies, research, risk communication and capacity building.
“WHO continuously supported the State by strengthening the capacity of health workers, conducting disease surveillance as well as other control measures which include coordination of contact tracing on behalf of the State Ministry of Health and engagement with communities, said Dr Osifo, Edo Commissioner for Health.
During this intervention, WHO paid particular attention to the involvement of local communities in the response. “We believe intensified community engagement is a great strategy to be underpinned for Lassa fever to be controlled at the community and house hold level,” said Dr Peter Clement, WHO Nigeria Officer in Charge. “The affected communities must be at the centre of the Lassa fever control, implying that community members must be fully engaged in the process” he added.
In Taraba, WHO experts worked with State and Federal partners to develop key messages on the prevention of the diseases in the local languages. Similarly in Edo, WHO risk communication experts supported efforts from federal authorities to empower women at the household level with knowledge and skills on personal hygiene, food hygiene and general home sanitation for rodent control. “Women are very important players in the promotion of food hygiene and environmental sanitation specially to control Lassa fever at home,” said Dr Stephen Fagbemi, Ondo State Epidemiologist with the NCDC. Overall, 345 women leaders from Edo and Ondo States were trained on how to prevent Lassa fever in their households.
This was complemented with pilot environmental interventions in Edo and Ondo States where 200 community volunteers and 100 environmental health officers were trained in conducting rodent control and community sanitation.
“With the emergency phase of the outbreak now over, I would like to congratulate NCDC and its staff for their dedication and commitment to contain the epidemic, “ Dr Clement said.
“However, the federal and state authorities along with partners must remain alert and ready to respond to sporadic cases that may be reported. WHO remains committed to working with the Government of Nigeria and other partners to sustain and improve Nigeria’s capacity to detect, prepare for and respond to Lassa fever outbreaks,” he reiterated.