The outbreak of yellow fever in Kogi, Nasarawa, Anambra, Zamfara, Benue states and the Federal Capital Territory is disturbing. The Federal and the health authorities of the affected states must work together to halt the spread of the disease to other parts of the country. The World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Reference Laboratory in Dakar, Senegal, has confirmed more than 41 cases of the disease. According to the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuabi, there are over 1, 640 suspected cases in the affected states.
Yellow fever, according to medical experts, is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It is common in tropical areas of Africa as well as in Central and South America. Nigeria is one of the 27 African countries at high risk for yellow fever.
Symptoms of the disease include high fever, jaundice, joint pain, headache, muscle pain, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and nausea or vomiting. Some patients who contract the yellow fever virus may develop severe symptoms and a few of them die between seven and ten days.
The disease becomes endemic when people get infected in heavily populated areas with high mosquito density and where lack of vaccination has caused low immunity in residents. In such areas, infected mosquitoes of the Aedes aegypti specie transmit the yellow fever virus from person to person.
There is currently no known cure for the disease. However, the good news is that the disease is not a death sentence. It can be prevented by vaccination. The yellow fever vaccine is highly effective, safe and affordable. Experts have affirmed that a single dose of the vaccine is enough to give an individual a life-long immunity and protection against the disease.
Last year, the Eliminate Yellow fever Epidemics (EYE) Strategy, an initiative involving more than 50 partners and which supports 40 countries in Africa and the Americas that are at risk of yellow fever, was launched. The EYE Strategy works to prevent, detect, and respond to suspected cases and outbreaks of yellow fever. Its target is that, by 2026, more than one billion people would be protected against yellow fever.
In the past, travellers from yellow fever endemic countries had taken the disease to countries that were free from the disease. To guard against such hazardous exportation, many countries now require proof of vaccination against yellow fever before visas are issued. Over the years, many people travelling abroad from Nigeria have been prevented from entering some countries for failure to produce evidence that they had taken the yellow fever vaccines.
It is commendable that the Federal Government has enough vaccines to contain the outbreak of the disease. The NPHCDA boss, Dr. Faisal Shuabi, who confirmed this at an event on the elimination of the disease in Abuja, disclosed that there were more than six million doses of the vaccines in government’s stockpiles.
Those that have the disease should not panic. They should go to the nearest health facility for supportive management and proper referral for management of the complications. For prevent purposes, those that are yet to have the yellow fever vaccine should do so now.
It is gratifying that the government is planning to embark on the local production of yellow fever vaccines as well as the establishment of a reference laboratory in the country within the next six months to reduce the logistics and challenges with sample transportation and laboratory turnaround time.
The complaints by some medical experts that cases of wrong diagnoses are becoming rampant in the nation’s hospitals and laboratories should be investigated by the health authorities. To stem the tide, there is need to enhance the accuracy of diagnoses in cases of malaria and typhoid.
Government must combat yellow fever epidemic in the country. The Federal Ministry of Health and its agencies, especially the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), must urgently rise to the occasion.