The current resurgence of yellow fever in Nigeria has come as a source of great concern at a time when it seemed the quick-killer fever has been decimated. A report by the World Health Organisation [WHO] said recently that some 1,640 suspected cases had been recorded, out of which 41 have been confirmed after blood tests at the Regional Reference Laboratory in Dakar, Senegal.
Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency [NPHCDA], Dr Faisal Shuaib, revealed further that the outbreak occurred in seven states of Kogi, Edo, Anambra, Nasarawa, Benue and Zamfara States. The spread of yellow fever shows that the Middle Belt and its adjoining states have been infected, while Zamfara State is the only state in the North-West where the virus has reared up its ugly head. The current outbreak speaks to the fact that the primary health care policy of the country is not working.
Yellow fever is preventable through consistent and regular vaccination of children and adults. Such vaccination should not be difficult to access if primary health care centres, cottage hospitals and general hospitals, not to talk of tertiary hospitals in the country, have regular supplies of the vaccines. Over the years, those who go for vaccination against Yellow Fever were Nigerians who intended to travel to other countries where such vaccination is a requirement for the issuance of visas. Knowing that Nigeria is prone to the virus, there should have been mass production of the vaccine in Nigeria at a low cost. Instead, the country has continued to depend on foreign donors for vaccines against common but preventable diseases.
The Primary Health Care Agency’s director has claimed that some vaccines are available but they are not enough to meet the exigencies of the moment. He said, “There is a global stockpile of vaccine meant for such outbreaks. The vaccines are supposed to be for prevention. Nigeria is one of the high-risk countries in Africa for yellow fever. So, there is stockpile of vaccine and as at the last time, it was about six million doses with additional vaccine doses that are added to that.”
Apparently, the vaccines are not enough to deal with the current outbreak. Six million doses are not enough to deal with the backlog. This is because of the population surge in the country. As at 2018, data from Nigeria’s Demographic Profile give the percentage of Nigerians between the age of 1 and 14 to be about 42.54 per cent, making a total of 81 million. Those between 15 and 24 constitute 19.7 per cent, some 37 million, while those between 25 and 54 years are put to be about 30.74 per cent, some 58 million. Expectedly the on-going ad hoc vaccination targets those below the age of 45, which is about 160 million Nigerians. With these statistics, it is apparent that six million doses of Yellow Fever vaccine are a far cry from what is needed.
Government needs to engage pharmacists in Nigeria and vaccines manufacturing companies to locally produce anti-Yellow Fever and other preventable diseases vaccines locally. Also, Nigeria has been identified as one of the countries prone to Yellow Fever, but there is no laboratory to test suspected cases in the country. All suspected cases of a virus that kills at the speed of light have to be taken to Senegal before results are obtained and treatments begin. This means many afflicted would have died before they receive proper attention. The Federal Government should ensure that laboratories for such diseases to which Nigerians are exposed should be established in the country.
Furthermore, the on-going mass vaccination is highly commended, but it should not stop at the fire brigade approach. Vaccination against Yellow Fever should be a continuous exercise in all parts of the country.