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Nigeria to host first international conference on Lassa fever

The National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, has confirmed that the Nigerian government is set to host the first ever Lassa Fever International Conference in Abuja to mark the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the disease.

The conference, organised by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and its partners, will hold January 16 and 17. It seeks to increase global health focus on Lassa fever found mostly in West Africa.

The Director-General of the health agency, Chikwe Ihekweazu on Monday announced this at a press briefing for journalists held at the NCDC administrative headquarters in Abuja.

“The Lassa Fever International Conference is the biggest ever event held concerning Lassa fever and with the support from sister agencies, and the Minister of Health. We have managed to invite over one hundred scientists from across the world. And issued, travel scholarships to 80 researchers from across Nigeria and West Africa”, he said.

“Since the discovery of the disease in the country, we have been developing our capacity to respond to threats of the disease. The largest burden is on us but we have developed our capacity a lot more compared to the past. We want to use this conference to demonstrate to the world that we are, no longer recipients of knowledge but also donors using the conference as a platform where people can learn from us and we can learn from them,” he said.

Lassa fever, also known as Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), is a type of viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus. The virus was first isolated 50 years ago in Lassa, a town in Borno State in northeast Nigeria, for which it has been named.

Speaking also, he stated that the anniversary was not to celebrate the outbreak of the disease but to take responsibility for playing a leading role to tackle the disease.

“We are marking 50 years since the disease was discovered in Nigeria, with the International conference to explore what we know about Lassa fever, examine the gaps in knowledge, what we need to do and celebrate some progress we have made. It is not about celebrating Lassa fever but marking a milestone in the isolation of the virus,” he said.

Speaking to The ICIR, Elsie Ilori, Team Lead, Lassa Fever Technical Working group, NCDC explained that the conference would answer questions about the statistical inroads made by the NCDC in combating Lassa Fever.

“We have a technical working committee whose responsibility is to assess the strategic gaps that need to be covered in fighting the disease and the conference will provide answers to these questions. What we do is science and not hearsay,” she said.

In preparation for the conference, the agency called for scientific efforts into prevention, detection, and control efforts to be showcased at the conference.

About 500 abstracts were submitted, from which 160 top quality papers were selected to be presented at the conference.

Plenary speakers expected at the conference include the governor of Nassarawa, Tanko Al-Makura; Chairman, National Lassa Fever Steering Committee Nigeria, Oyewale Tomori; and the Chief Medical Director of Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Edo State, Sylvanus Okogbenin.

Also billed for attendance are the Technical Team Lead, National Lassa Fever Working Group, Elsie Ilori, Team Leader of VHF at World Health Organisation (WHO), Pierre Formenty; the Head of Virology Bernard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine Germany, Stephan Gunther; and the Head of Virology, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research University of Ghana, Accra, William Ampofo.

Others include the Director, UK Public Health Rapid Support Team, Daniel Bausch, Team Leader for Implementation Research Initiative for Vaccine Research, WHO, Ana Maria Restrepo; Director, Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases Redeemers University, Christian Happi; and Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Richard J. Hatchett.

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