Scientist urged to develop Lassa fever vaccine

Scientist and researchers have been tasked to intensify their researches towards developing a vaccine that could prevent the spread of Lassa fever across the continent in the nearest possible future.

This plea was made at the ongoing maiden Lassa fever international conference which held in Abuja on Wednesday.

Though some researches on Lassa fever vaccines are in the pipe line, none has been certified for use.

This is one of reasons for the organisation of the Lassa fever international conference.

The conference was to create an avenue where researchers, scientists, health workers and people with interest in the disease from across the world, come together to reflect on what is known and available and prioritise research agenda towards eradicating the disease.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the event, the minister of state for health, Osagie Ehanire, said the federal government is working hard to prevent the resurgence of Lassa fever in the country.

Mr Ehanire said Nigeria has developed a Lassa fever research plan, aligned with global research agenda.

He said the government shall invest more in training staff, acquiring the necessary equipment, developing best protocols and embracing best practices that will help the nation achieve the desired results.

“I hope all global efforts come to fruition in the near future, so that we have more tools at our disposal for swift prevention, detection and response to such disease outbreaks, he said.

Ironically, there is an ongoing outbreak of the disease as the nation marks 50 years of the discovery of the virus in a small town called Lassa, in Borno State.

The weekly epidemiological report from the Nigeria Centre for Disease control indicates that seven people have died this year from the 25 confirmed cases of the disease, from seven states, including the FCT.

Lassa fever is a deadly disease caused by a virus carried in the urine or faeces of infected rat. The disease is often transmitted through rodent to human or human to human transmission.

This causes fever, weakness, seizures and most times, is fatal.

Lassa fever has become endemic in West Africa. Nigeria, between January and May 2018, experienced the largest outbreak of the disease ever recorded in the history.

The upsurge in the cases recorded placed Nigeria on high international surveillance alert raising concerns over the emergence of the strain of the disease and transmission rate.

Also speaking at the event, the governor of Nasarawa State, Tanko Almakura, called on West African countries to stand up to the challenge and end Lassa fever.

Mr Almakura, who is a Lassa fever survivor, but who lost a son to the virus, urged researchers to prioritise researches that can help mitigate the spread of the disease, as such researches are long overdue.

He said it is a pity that Nigerians, after 50 years of the discovery of the disease, still die from it.

Mr Almakura called on governments across states to improve on their attitude towards tackling the disease as most survivors just like his son and himself suffers from disabilities even after getting better.

He said as part of his contribution towards ending lassa fever in Nigeria, he is building a modern laboratory in Lafia and this is already 80 per cent completed.

Also, the chief executive officer, NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, in his speech said the conference is aimed sharing knowledge among the international scientist community on the disease.

He said Nigeria is no longer comfortable with being just a recipient of knowledge but wants to co-create the knowledge.

“We want to co-create knowledge that defines one of the biggest issues in Nigeria. We are expecting that at the end of the conference we should be on the pathway to vaccine innovation that would help curb the spread of the disease.”

Mr Ihekweazu said thinking of developing a vaccine to curb the spread of the disease has become necessary, due to the high transmission and case fatality rate of the disease.

“With a case fatality ratio of 25 per cent, one in every four people diagnosed with Lassa fever dies from the disease. Thinking of a vaccine has become necessary.”

Mr Ihekweazu said at least 150 research papers from scientists and institutions working on all aspects of Lassa fever are to be presented at the conference.

He said the papers ranged from prevention and management, to diagnosis, detection and risk communication.

Mr Ihekweazu, however, assured Nigerians that NCDC’s target is to push fatality ratio down to less than five percent in the next 10 years.

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