Still on the return of yellow fever

Recently, we warned that the fresh outbreak of yellow fever in the country amid a raging Covid-19 pandemic could spell doom if not contained. If reports in the media are any indication, governments at all levels need to do much more to contain the outbreak. Following the cases recorded between September and November last year, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), which is battling to curtail yellow fever cases in Delta, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Osun, Benue, Borno,  Ebonyi, Oyo, Gombe, Kogi, Plateau and Taraba states, reported additional confirmed yellow fever cases in December. Sadly, according to reports, vaccine resistance and low storage capacity at the country’s primary healthcare centres have been hampering efforts to contain the scourge.

Initially, authorities in Enugu and Delta states raised the alarm over ‘strange deaths’ in some of their communities. Experts immediately intensified efforts at getting more samples from both states to ascertain the causative organism responsible for this scary outbreak. They then confirmed that there was a renewed outbreak of yellow fever. Between September and December last year, more than 70 people were feared killed by the dreaded disease. The health authorities correctly predicted that the resurgence was an indication that there could be a stronger upsurge in the disease as months rolled by. It will be recalled that in 2019, the country recorded 47 deaths from the disease, with health workers thumping their chests at the gradual reduction in casualties. That was until the recent outbreak that sadly threatens to be more deadly. A major scourge at its first outbreak years ago, yellow fever has become a vaccine-preventable disease, thereby reducing its volatility and number of casualties, especially in Africa. Though there are no specific treatments for the fever, vaccinations have proved to be a hundred per cent effective in curtailing its spread in any community. As we noted in a previous editorial, a single shot of vaccination is so potent against the disease that the person under consideration is assured of immunity from the killer virus for life.

Epidemologists trace the current upsurge to the climate crisis afflicting the world, increased incidence of migration, as well as fewer vaccination campaigns embarked upon by health officials and workers. These were the battles being waged before the coronavirus outbreak worsened matters.  The World Health Organization (WHO), which had earlier halted yellow fever vaccination due to the global attention given to Covid-19, changed course and announced its plan to resume campaign and vaccination for yellow fever. As usual, however, governments’ handling of the epidemic in this clime has been poor. The federal and state ministries of health have not done enough in the areas of enlightenment campaigns and mass vaccinations. Rather disturbingly, Kogi, a state which is contiguous to Enugu, typically denied any infections in its domain, although that there had been rumours of strange deaths in Etteh community in Olamaboro area of the state. As the state did with coronavirus allegations, it denied that the “strange deaths” were linked with any yellow fever outbreak. A statement by its Commissioner for Health boasted that Kogi had “a well-established network” through which disease outbreaks were reported from community and local government levels and down to the state level. With this network, he claimed, there was no possibility that a yellow fever outbreak would not be noticed.  We hope that this is not another example of the proverbial case of setting fire to the roof while going to bed.

Given that the current yellow fever scourge has been traced to the lax approach to its curtailment due to the unequal and overbearing attention given by medical experts and workers to curtailing the spread of Covid-19, governments at all levels need to ramp up efforts to diagnose all suspected cases. They should ensure mass vaccination programmes. Since vaccine resistance is rooted in trust issues, they should do everything within their power to assure the public of the honesty of their intentions while sanctioning deliberate sabotage. Although the preventive mass vaccination campaigns in Benue, Oyo, Ondo and Delta states are worthy of commendation, governments in all the states of the federation, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, need to see the bigger picture. They should return to the drawing table. Nigerians need to know why the outbreak of yellow fever was witnessed in the country in 2017 after two decades of assurances that the disease had been permanently banished from its shores. After all, prevention, as they say, is better than cure.

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