Following the outbreaks of deadly yellow fever in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigerian government has been asked to be adequately prepared against any possible outbreak.
A renowned Virologist and President of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), Prof. Oyewale Tomori, who made the call in Lagos, said the yellow fever outbreak in those countries, should worry Nigeria because as many as 101 million Nigerians were at risk of the infection, if a mass vaccination campaign was not carried out.
Tomori, who is Head of the World Health Organisation, Advisory Panel on Yellow fever, and Chairman Lassa fever Control Committee in Nigeria, pointed out that Nigeria can stop yellow fever infection through immunization.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in Angola, as of 28 July 2016, a total of 3818 suspected cases have been reported, of which 879 are laboratory confirmed. The total number of reported deaths is 369.
The yellow fever outbreak began in Luanda, Angola’s capital in December 2015 and then spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, and to China, where there were 11 cases among expatriate workers, generating fears of the mosquito-borne disease jumping to sprawling cities in Asia and Africa.
Lamenting that Nigeria has shortage of yellow fever vaccine should there be any outbreak, Tomori stated that the country currently needs over 101 million doses of the vaccine to combat it.
“No vaccine for any outbreak of yellow fever in Nigeria. The first case was reported in 1951 in Jos and since then, the epidemic is still going round the country”, he said.
He spoke at a media roundtable in Lagos recently, tagged; “The threat of yellow fever in Africa “, organised by NAS to empower science journalists on how to report on preparedness for disease prevention and control.
Tomori therefore, listed improved surveillance system, laboratory back up, rapid detection, mass preventive vaccination and outbreak control as some of the strategies needed to forestall any yellow fever outbreak in the country.
He also identified the introduction of yellow fever vaccine in routine immunization as another way forward.
He further noted that the government should try and find out the vulnerable areas in the country and vaccinate them.
Tomori expressed displeasure over the inability of the nation to produce the yellow fever vaccine which it had produced in the past, saying that the vaccine laboratory in Yaba, Lagos State, is in comatose.
He urged Nigerians to get themselves vaccinated against yellow fever assuring that one shot usually gives lifetime protection.
While reminding the government that even one laboratory-confirmed case of yellow fever is an outbreak by itself.
“We are sitting on a tinderbox. If we have not done a mass vaccination campaign, it means we have a large number of people who are vulnerable”, he warned.
According to him, between 2007 and 2012, all the countries in West Africa and including Cameroon and Central African Republic, except Nigeria have conducted a mass preventive vaccination against yellow fever.
“The fact that we are not reporting yellow fever does not mean that it does not happen. The diagnostic facilities are not even there and yellow fever is a major problem in Africa.
“When your surveillance system is not good, it would be difficult to ascertain the occurrence of epidemic”, he said.
Tomori further disclosed that at an emergency advisory committee of the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, the spread of Yellow fever in Africa was declared as a serious concern and advocated drastic expansion of vaccinations to combat it.
“The committee was of the opinion that we have a serious issue on our hands, but it does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern. The next step is to build up enough capacity to routinely vaccinate children in the tropics everywhere there is risk”, he said.
According to scientists, the immediate concern is that the virus might spread to larger African urban centres, as happened in the biggest previous outbreak, which began in 1986 in Nigeria and ultimately infected 116,000 people and killed 24,000.
According to WHO, yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The “yellow” in the name refers to the jaundice that affects some patients.
Symptoms of yellow fever include fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
A small proportion of patients who contract the virus develop severe symptoms and approximately half of those die within 7 to 10 days.
Yellow fever is prevented by an extremely effective vaccine, which is safe and affordable.
On current polio outbreak, Tomori expressed discontent that the country had been set back by two years and will have to wait for another two years from 2017 to 2019 to be certify polio free by the WHO.
“The complacency of government and non-accountability made it difficult to sustain progress made so far in the fight against polio. If you have one case, you have failed”, he stated.
He therefore, called for constant surveillance and mass campaign on polio immunization.