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Preventing And Controlling Meningitis: Health Advisory For Nigerians

The current Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM) outbreak in Nigeria continues to pose a public health concern. According to the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), cases of CSM was first reported in Zamfara state in 2016, and has since spread to 16 other states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). There have been over 2,997 cases of infection and over 336 recorded deaths so far making this outbreak a major public health threat.

As advocates for improved maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, The Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA) is particularly concerned about the outbreak of CSM and its outcome on women and children in Nigeria. Traditionally, because women and children spend relatively more time indoors, compared to adult men, they are at an even greater risk. Pregnancy could pose a stressor to the bodies of women making them rather susceptible, especially if not adequately vaccinated. Children, also, are not spared from the vulnerabilities of a naïve immune system. It is therefore, important for our communities to be very vigilant regarding CSM in women and children. Consequently, WBFA advocates that pregnant women and newborns should be provided with Personal Health Records where health workers and mothers can track and monitor their immunization and vaccinations.

WBFA urgently calls on national policymakers to provide appropriate antibiotic therapy and strengthen immunization, and to include Meningovax vaccine, which protects against meningitis A and meningitis C, into the immunization schedules of Nigerian citizens, as a recognized preventive step, which is widely administered internationally. Similarly, the foundation calls on policymakers and health workers in Nigeria to disseminate and distribute accurate information to patients and citizens about the disease, to increase understanding and prevent the disease from further spreading.

The Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA) continues to advocate for increased strengthening of primary healthcare (PHC) systems, as the one true solution to Nigeria’s health crises. Nationally, as Nigeria strengthens its disease surveillance systems, so must it strengthen its detection and treatment referral systems so infected patients can be better detected and treated. There is an urgent need to harness public service announcement advocacy with a strong disease surveillance system, where a control and command reporting system is central. The Wellbeing Foundation Africa understands that it is only with a strong national reporting structure between hospitals, health workers and policymakers that a resilient health system can be built against national disease outbreaks.

Through the Foundation’s other interventions like the MamaCare ante-natal and post-natal education program, we know that community mobilization and awareness at the grassroots is a critical success factor for improved health outcomes. Cerebrospinal meningitis can only be successfully prevented or curbed at the ward level, a microcosm of the local government area (LGA). Case detection, verification, and treatment are best started here, for maximum effectiveness. Client-held personal health records (PHRs), show the importance of community-level action. That is why, WBFA works with all relevant stakeholders in the public, private and third sectors, to promote greater investment and focus on primary health care centers and health records.

The Wellbeing Foundation Africa is encouraged by the Federal Ministry of Health and Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), in bracing up to the task of preventing further spread of the epidemic through emergency reactive vaccinations. Of crucial mention, as well, are the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Senate of the 8th National Assembly who have assured fiscal appropriations to support the control of meningitis, and other local and international partners who have donated technical expertise, financial resources, as well as hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses, in order to dampen this epidemic as soon as possible.

The Wellbeing Foundation Africa commiserates with the families of those who have lost loved ones. We pray for strength during this difficult time as we earnestly work together to stop the spread of CSM in Nigeria.

WBFA uses this medium to educate citizens, particularly pregnant women and mothers on the causes and symptoms of meningitis. Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM) is a disease of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord (the meninges), characterised by inflammation which can begin suddenly (acute) or develop gradually (subacute). It is caused by a germ (bacteria), in this instance, Neisseria meningitides. The disease is spread mainly by contact with an infected person usually through sneezing, coughing and kissing and is particularly worse in overcrowded areas. Meningococcal meningitis remains associated with a high mortality rate and persistent neurological defects particularly among infants and young children. Without antibiotic therapy, meningococcal meningitis is uniformly fatal.

Symptoms of meningitis include: fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, poor feeding (particularly in newborns), irritability, aching muscles, altered mental status (confusion), skin rash, increased sensitivity to light and stiff neck. If you have or notice one or more of these symptoms on your baby please report to a health care facility immediately.

As a way of prevention, it is important to avoid overcrowded spaces, sleep in well-ventilated rooms, and avoid close and prolonged contacts with infected individuals. Also, remember to practice strict personal hygiene like hand washing, proper disposal of throat secretions, and sneezing or coughing into handkerchiefs or elbows. Do NOT practice self-medication and where possible get vaccinated with the relevant sero-type of the meningococcal vaccine.

 

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