Nurse, pregnant women, children among 23 killed so far in 2024

Clinical vaccine trial to hold in 3 hospitals


From Magnus Eze, Abakaliki

•Late nurse being prepared for burial


Lassa fever has remained endemic in Ebonyi State. The disease has continued to spread deaths and sorrow in parts of the state since January this year when the outbreak started.

The situation has put health workers in the state on the edge. Their apprehension is not far-fetched since many of them have died over the years in the line of duty, following Lassa fever outbreak in the state.

•Deceased nurse while alive

Last year, there were 53 cases of the virus with 35 deaths. But between January and March this year, 45 confirmed cases were recorded in the state with 23 deaths, leaving a case fatality rate of 51.1 per cent.

•Nurses praying for colleague killed by Lassa fever

According to statistics released to Saturday Sun by the State Disease Surveillance and Notification Officer (DSNO), Orogwu Onyemachi, this means the state had more cases of the virus with lesser deaths last year. But, this year, it has lower number of cases with more deaths making the case fatality rate to be higher.

Dr. Ogbonna

A nurse attached to Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki (AE-FUTHA), Nkechinyere Ewogu, recently died of the virus.

She lost her life trying to rescue those affected by the virus in the hospital. It was gathered that serious medical attention was reportedly given to her to save her but she could not make it.  


Ewogu worked at the emergency unit of the AE-FUTHA since December 2019. A graduate of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, she hailed from Ikwo Local Government Area of the state. 

She was immediately laid to rest in her Ikwo country home according to Lassa fever control protocol. 


Her death threw medical workers in the hospital and people of her community into deep sorrow, as tears flowed freely during her burial.

The deceased was reportedly making arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and continue practicing her profession when she got infected by the virus in the AE-FUTHA and died.

The deceased nurse was among the 23 deaths so far recorded in the state this year following the outbreak of Lassa fever.

Other persons that have died of the virus included pregnant women, a 79-year-old retiree, children and youths.

The cases in the state were mainly from seven local government areas regarded as hotspots; namely- Abakaliki, Ezza North, Ikwo, Onicha, Izzi, Ohaukwu and Ebonyi.

In the 45 cases of the virus recorded this year, Abakaliki Local Government accounts for 21 cases with 12 deaths, making the bulk of the cases to be coming from the area.

Ebonyi LGA had six confirmed cases with one death, Ezza North had seven confirmed cases and five deaths, Ikwo LGA recorded four confirmed cases and three deaths, while Izzi has had one confirmed case and one death. Others are Ohaukwu; five confirmed cases with no death; Onicha had one confirmed case and one death, according to the statistics by the State Disease Surveillance and Notification Officer, Orogwu Sampson.

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He noted that Abakaliki has higher confirmed cases and deaths by the virus because there are more people in the area and that as the town is growing, it is equally coming with its own side effects.

“Abakaliki is densely populated compared to other LGs, and Abakaliki, despite being the state capital with developments, still has a lot of slums. Over 80 per cent of the cases that are coming from Abakaliki, are from Nkaliki and Hausa Quarters and that’s the hotspot areas in Abakaliki and you know the living condition of the people there. So, that is what is causing the high number of cases in Abakaliki.

“We are beginning to have slums and the bulk of the cases in Abakaliki is coming from that axis.  In Ezza North, the bulk of the cases is coming from Umuoghara and Oriuzor. Oriuzor has proximity to Nkaliki. Then Umuoghara has become a refuse dumpsite and it has become a breeding site for rats. So, rats move from there to communities. These are what is accounting for the high numbers of the virus in these two local governments.

“We are increasing surveillance both in the hotspot local governments and the entire state so that it can be detected on time because the best way to treat Lassa fever is early detection and early presentation,” he stated.

Orogwu noted that the state was recording high mortality rate in the virus because of the health seeking behaviour of the people which he said was very low.

He explained: “When they get infected, instead of them to come to where these things are professionally managed, they go to the chemist to seek care. It is when the case is worsening and the person is about dying that the infected person comes for treatment and that is what is increasing the mortality rate.”

The State Epidemiologist, Dr. Nwambeke Ogbonna, noted that there have been increased sensitization, advocacy, research and monitoring since the outbreak of the disease in the state this year.

He clarified that some of those killed by the virus were not indigenes of Ebonyi but resided in the state.

“In the distribution as it concerns the adjoining states, we have a lot of cases coming from Enugu, specifically Uzo-Uwani. We also have cases coming from Uwalakande, Cross River State, we also have cases from Anambra State. And you know that Ebonyi is a metropolitan area. Some people are from Ebonyi and some people are not from Ebonyi but they reside in Ebonyi.

“We are doing a lot of advocacy, sensitisation and rural engagement to control this virus. Immediately I came on board about four months ago, I had to quickly activate what we call EOC-Emergency Operation Centre where the epidemiology unit and the public health department sit weekly to monitor the trend of Lassa fever and other diseases of public concern.

“We keep tabs, we respond, we mount surveillance and active monitoring including research. We have also reached out to ALGON and we have made them to know that this disease comes from their local governments and all hands must be on deck to control it,” he said.

The epidemiologist lamented lack of operational vehicles and other logistics in the fight against the virus in the state, noting that it had hampered their operations.

At the national level, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) had reported a grim tally of 20 deaths across 16 states in the span of a single week, from February 26 to March 3, 2024.

According to the NCDC’s official website, the agency noted an increase in confirmed cases, from 96 in the previous week to the current count.

Lassa fever, as reported by Science Nigeria, is an acute viral hemorrhagic illness transmitted to humans through contact with contaminated food, household items, or infected individuals. Symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat, weakness, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pains, chest pain and in severe cases, unexplained bleeding from various body openings.

Despite concerted efforts, the NCDC expressed concern over the persistent threat of Lassa fever, as evidenced by the continuing rise in cases and fatalities. The latest figures indicate a total of 109 cases reported within the week under review.

So far, Nigeria has recorded 682 confirmed cases and 128 deaths from Lassa Fever from week one to nine of 2024, reflecting a case fatality rate of 18.8 per cent, higher than the corresponding period in 2023, which stood at 16.1 per cent.

In addition, the NCDC highlighted a notable spike in suspected cases compared to the previous year, with eight healthcare workers newly affected in week nine alone.

The affected states include Ondo, Bauchi, Edo, Benue, Ebonyi, Kogi, Kaduna, Taraba, Enugu, Delta, Jigawa, Adamawa, Anambra, Rivers, Ogun and Oyo.

Of particular concern is the concentration of confirmed cases in Ondo, Edo, and Bauchi, which account for 62 per cent of all cases, while the remaining 38 per cent are scattered across 24 states.

To mitigate the escalating crisis, the NCDC has activated the National Lassa fever multi-partner, multi-sectoral Incident Management System, operating from the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), to coordinate response efforts at all levels.

Experts insist that heightened vigilance, community engagement and coordinated interventions remain paramount in curbing the spread of Lassa fever and mitigating its devastating impact on communities nationwide.

Meanwhile, three health institutions in the country are to undergo clinical vaccine trial to produce a medicine for tackling the virus.

Chief Medical Director of AE-FUTHA, Professor Robinson Onoh who disclosed this in Abakaliki, listed the health centres that would undergo the clinical vaccine trial to include; Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital Abakaliki, Federal Medical Centre, Owo, Ondo State and Irua Specialist Hospital, Edo State.

He described Ebonyi State as endemic for Lassa fever, noting it was the reason AE-FUTHA was selected for the clinical vaccine trial.

He said this is the first time Nigeria was being involved in a vaccine trial for Lassa fever virus.

“In the course of our service to humanity, we have been able to upgrade the hospital in areas of clinical services, training and research. In research, we are one of the hospitals that did research on Lassa fever where we have different versions.

“So, we call it enable 1.0. In that research work, our hospital got seven awards which was the highest award that was given to any hospital in all those involved in the research. And going forward with the research, the federal government liaised with the body ZP that is undergoing the research and planned that there should be a vaccine trial and that is the clinical vaccine trial. Clinical vaccine trial is on producing a vaccine for Lassa fever. 

“Incidentally, we are one of the hospitals and this trial will go on in five countries. And so, our centre will be one of the places where the trial will go on.

“At the moment, we have the molecular lab with an attached vaccine cold room where the vaccines could be stored. We also have another research lab that was built by one of the partners that are involved in that vaccine clinical trial. That research lab is where what we called jincy pessin is done.

“You get a virus and get the specific genes that are in the virus and know the type of virus it is. So, it also in that place that clinical vaccine trial will be going on and within the period it will be going on, the partners will also construct a more clinical building for that clinical vaccine trial. So, we are hoping that it will start this year and stand for one or two years before it will be concluded. If it is successful, what it means is that a vaccine on Lassa fever for the first time, have been produced in Nigeria,” Onoh enthused.