At least 50 per cent of people who have meningitis will die if left untreated, an official of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said on Saturday, saying Nigeria must do more to tackle the disease.
The Director of Special Duties and Technical Lead for the National Cerebrospinal Meningitis Technical Working Group, NCDC, Priscilla Ibekwe, said this during an awareness walk to mark the 2021 World Meningitis Day.
Ms Ibekwe said even when treated, 10 to 20 per cent of people who survive meningitis will have after-effects such as deafness, loss of sight, loss of limbs amongst others.
“The sad thing about meningitis is that it is a race against time and 50 per cent of people who have meningitis will die if untreated,” she said.
A deadly disease
World Meningitis Day (WMD) is marked on April 24 every year to raise awareness about the deadly disease that also causes lifelong disability.
The theme for 2021 WMD is @TakeAction #DefeatMeningitis.”
Meningitis, a vaccine-preventable disease, is endemic in many parts of Africa including Nigeria.
Meningitis cases have been found to occur through the year in Nigeria with an observed increase during the dry season. The disease is highly contagious and can kill within 24 hours.
The most recent large scale meningitis outbreak in Nigeria occurred between December 2016 and May 2017, according to data from the NCDC. A total of 14,280 suspected meningitis cases were reported across 23 of the 36 states.
The two main causes of meningitis are viruses and bacteria which may cause infection in a part of the body and then spread through the bloodstream to the nervous system.
Ms Ibekwe noted that although meningitis continues to be a public health problem, Nigeria has recorded lower cases in the past few years.
“In Nigeria, in 2016/2017 there was a massive outbreak – over 14,542 people were affected, and nearly 1,200 deaths, and that is unacceptable,” she said.
“In 2017/2018, we had about 3,500 people with meningitis, and those numbers are beginning to fall.
“In 2018/2019, we had about 1,532 people that were affected and in 2020 it was less than 1,000 cases,” She said.
She, however, said the country has not done well in reducing meningitis compared to other vaccine-preventable diseases.
She said efforts are ongoing to reduce the number of meningitis cases by at least 50 per cent of the current level of 631 suspected cases in 2020.
“We have nine years to go to make sure we kick out meningitis globally especially in Africa because we know that over 50 per cent of the global burden of meningitis is in Africa,” Ms Ibekwe said.
“Through the global strategy, we plan to reduce to the barest minimum, outbreaks of meningitis.”
The Head of Risk Communication at the NCDC, Yahaya Disu, said neningitis is still endemic in the country because those affected do not understand the roles they need to play.
Mr Disu said policymakers in the country also have significant role to play in the eradication of the disease.
“Issues of hand hygiene and other things are personal things that people need to do, but when it comes to vaccination – making it available and accessible are roles of policymakers,” he said.
“They need to ensure equitable access to what is available to prevent and cure meningitis, empower facilities, train healthcare workers, and provide the necessary drugs.”
According to him, when disability occurs, there must be rehabilitation mechanisms to ensure that those who suffer the disease, suffer minimal disability.
“We must be able to reintegrate them back into society for them to optimise their potential.”
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