Nigeria set to host international Lassa fever conference

National coordinator, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu [Photo: Health News Extra]
National coordinator, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu [Photo: Health News Extra]

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is set to host the first-ever international Lassa fever conference in Nigeria.

This will hold between January 16 and 17 in Abuja. The theme of the conference is; ‘50 years of Lassa fever: Rising to the challenge.’

The conference would mark 50 years of discovering the virus in Nigeria.

Expected at the conference are health experts, researchers and scientists from all parts of the world who have been working on the Lassa fever disease, especially since its inception.

At the conference, researchers from countries with incidences of Lassa fever disease would be able to share knowledge and suggest ways to curb the disease.

The Chief Executive Officer, NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said during a press briefing ahead of the conference that Nigeria is now taking leadership in the control of Lassa fever globally.

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“We will be using the scientific conference to share why we must work together for strong collaboration.

“We are marking 50 years since this disease was first diagnosed by pushing ourselves to do more. We have agreed that we will work harder to prevent deaths recorded from Lassa fever. This we hope to drop from 26 per cent currently to less than 10 per cent in the next five years,” he said.

Mr Ihekweazu said with the conference, Nigeria is setting herself on a path to more accountability to the lives that the agency is meant to protect.

He said there will also be a discussion around the level of vaccine production for the disease.

“We have done a lot of work but we know we can do more, and we will do more. At the conference, we will be exchanging ideas, listening to new thoughts, and making new friends. From these, new scientific collaborations will commence.”

He said the conference will help the Nigeria and health experts in the field define what is known about the disease, the knowledge and the gaps as well as define research priorities for Lassa fever.

Other countries in West Africa also experience outbreak of the disease.

Nigeria has been recording yearly outbreaks in every part of the country. States like Edo, Ondo, Ebonyi have always topped the chart of states with the most prevalent cases of the disease.

Ironically, Borno State, where the disease was first detected, sometimes record little or no case of the disease.

In 2018, Nigeria reported the largest Lassa fever outbreak since the history of the disease. 21 states reported at least a suspected case of the disease.

Speaking on the aim of the conference, Elsie Ilori, the National Lassa Fever Technical Working Group head and conference co-chair, said the rise in the number of suspected cases of the disease “raised several questions and pushed us to think more about the research areas that must be strengthened for us to control Lassa fever.”

“Since then, we have developed a national Lassa fever research plan, carried out genetic sequencing to better understand the virus, increased our diagnostic, surveillance, risk communications, coordination and other capacities,” she said.

Ms Ilori said Nigeria has recorded several pockets of Lassa fever outbreaks, most of them going untracked, due to country’s capacity to tackle the disease.

“The next two days, we hope to join the global community in identifying a profound body of evidence with which we will be able to protect the health of Nigerians better. We also look forward to how this will inspire our scientific community to join us in learning more as we proceed with Lassa fever control,” she said.

Speaking in similar vein, Emmanuel Agogo, the lead, scientific subcommittee, said after continuous promotions, online and offline, it had over 350 submissions out of which 160 papers were selected.

“In the coming days, we look forward to efforts and quality work on Lassa fever. We urge our local scientific community to look forward to outcomes of this conference. We also want to join the country to welcome our dear participants from far and wide to the first Lassa Fever International Conference.”

He said the conference would have nine thematic areas:

1. Epidemiology and Surveillance of Lassa and other VHFs

2. Case management of Lassa and other VHFs

3. Laboratory diagnosis of Lassa and other VHFs

4. Risk communication for Lassa and other VHFs

5. Community engagement for Lassa and other VHFs

6. Infection Prevention Control (IPC) of Lassa and other VHFs

7. Animal and Environmental health response to Lassa and other VHFs

8. Policy and Co-ordination of response to Lassa and other VHFs and

9. Vaccines and Innovations

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