The Federal Government has dismissed the claims by Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, that the current outbreak of deadly Type C Cerebrospinal Meningitis disease in the country is a result of widespread fornication for which God is angry with Nigerians.
Speaking to some journalists in Hausa on Monday, the governor had declared that: “People have turned away from God and he has promised that ‘if you do anyhow, you see anyhow’. That is just the cause of this outbreak as far as I am concerned.
“There is no way fornication will be so rampant and God will not send a disease that cannot be cured”.
However, Minister of State Health, Osagie Ehanire, told Star House correspondents yesterday that the Federal Government does not share same view as Yari, and has instead been making huge efforts to check the disease which turned into an epidemic in Nigeria because the particular strain is rare and took the health authorities unawares.
“The federal government does not have views of that nature and I am not sure the state government can really continue to make that statement.
“When things happen, yes you can begin to look this way and that way for the cause of it but nature played us unfortunate stroke.
“That is not to say we committed sin or anything. It does happen that things occur out of the blues”, said Ehanire who briefed the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, on the outbreak of the disease.
The Minister assured the public that “a robust response” was being put in place by the government along with the Nigerian Center for Disease Control, primary health care development agencies, World Health Organisation, UNICEF and other partners.
He further explained the severity of this particular outbreak, saying that it is caused by a total different strand of the Meningitis germ, the Type C.
According to him: “This country before suffers Meningitis around this time of year when dry season is turning to raining season. In the area called the Meningitis Belt that ranges all the way from Senegal down to Ethiopia and Eritrea, the prevailing germ was the Meningecocus A.
“Mass vaccination that has taken place all these years has led to almost total elimination of Type A. Type C has been very rare and this year it is the Type C that appeared.
“Unfortunately, there is no cross immunization; if you are immune to Type A, it doesn’t make you immune to Type C. And because Type C was very rare, the availability of vaccines has been very meagre, relatively.
“We have mobilised vaccines come in from all corners, 500,000 unit doses of vaccines are being distributed and they have started vaccination campaign already.
“Government is also getting 826,000 units which are being shipped from Europe (free of charge) to us within the next few days.”
On the spread of the disease and casualty figures, Ehanire said the most affected states have been Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina which together have about 85 per cent of the cases.
“As of today, there have been 2,996 cases in 16 states and 54 local governments. There have been 336 fatalities of which 141 have been confirmed by laboratory tests.
“There is reactive vaccination going on already, there is social mobilization going on, teams are working in various states affected particularly the most affected ones. There are two treatment centers being set up in every local government and lumber puncture kits have been distributed so that doctors can take samples to laboratory for testing.
“Field epidemiologists who are doing findings and contact tracing in other to interrupt the spread of this epidemic.
“So, to allay the fear of Nigerians, we want to make it clear that this is not a sign of the failing of the system, it is a fact that nature played a very different stroke this time that caught everybody off guard”, he stated.
The Minister also highlighted the difficulty in getting the requisite vaccines because they are not only costly but expires quickly, hence produced largely upon demand.
He said “the vaccines are extremely expensive to make and if you acquire and store and you don’t use, it might expire and is bad business.
“So companies make the vaccines on request and on demand and they store just as much as they calculate will be used. The Type C was not very much in demand but right now this present epidemic has led to a big demand.”
Ehanire disclosed that nonetheless, the Health ministry has placed order for additional two million doses and more will be ordered if necessary although the epidemic is beginning to decrease in Sokoto while Zamfara is still trying to even out, with the hope that ongoing reactive vaccinations will end the menace.
Asked why early warning of the Nigeria Meteorology Authority about severe hot weather this year was not enough to avert the outbreak, the Minister insisted that “it was the Type A that we have known that has worried us in the last years but the Type C came this time as a bit of a surprise because that wasn’t the pattern in the past.
“So, the preparedness for treatment was very much on ground but the preparedness for vaccines could not have been predicted until we begin to diagnose and do tests and discover that this is a different strand from what we had before. If it had been Type A, we would not have seen an epidemic of this nature”.