THE need to provide practical solutions to effectively combat the scourge of Lassa fever was the burden of scientists, researchers, and relevant stakeholders at the ongoing maiden Lassa Fever International conference held at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja on Wednesday.
At the opening of the two – day conference organised by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) scientists and researchers were charged to engage in timely researches geared towards developing a vaccine that would prevent the spread of Lassa fever in Africa.
The conference was aimed at providing a platform 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 provide 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 was putting efforts in place to prevent the resurgence of Lassa fever in the country.
Ehanire said Nigeria has developed a Lassa fever research plan, compliant with global research agenda.
He said the government should invest more in training staff, acquiring the necessary equipment, developing best protocols and embracing best practices that would 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.
In a presentation titled ‘Quinquagenary of a Nigerian conundrum’, Prof Oyewale Tomori, head of the National Lassa Fever Committee, berated policymakers for peddling with corruption and putting the lives of citizens at the mercy of Lassa fever.
He stated that of the three centres designated for the diagnosis, surveillance, and treatment of Lassa fever in the country were non – functional, except the one in Edo state which was operational.
Also speaking at the event, the Governor of Nassarawa State, Tanko Almakura shared his personal ordeal with the disease and called on West African countries to rise from the background and eradicate Lassa fever.
“I stand as a product of the tragedy of Lassa fever. I was completely deaf and had to be living with that for 20 years and I was using hearing aid until I had cochlear implant that mechanically processes the sound. I endured a certain measure of deafness. It was the same with my son who was able to survive.
“I consider myself very lucky. I have survived to tell my story. I encourage all of us to rise up to the challenge. I can feel the endless psychological trauma. I am a product of the tragedy of Lassa fever. There is the adage that there is ability in disability. I believe with a conference like this, we will be able to protect a lot of people who would have been disabled. So let us try as much as possible to prevent diseases,” he said.
He said as part of his contribution towards ending Lassa fever in Nigeria, he was building a modern laboratory in Lafia and that is already 80 per cent completed.
During the event, a panel session provided perspective on the strategies for completely eradicating the deadly virus. The panelists included David Heymann of Global Health Security, Chatham House, Niniola Soleye of Doctor Ameyo Stella Adadevoh Foundation, Faisal Shuaib of National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Philip Onyebujoh of Africa Center for Disease control, Njidda Gadzama of University of Maiduguri and Sylvie Briand of World Health Organisation.
The chief executive officer, NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, in his speech described the conference as a knowledge-sharing event by the global community of scientists working on Lassa fever.
“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,” he said.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.