With Nigeria’s meningitis outbreak not ending anytime soon, an expert has described it as ridiculous
While only a few of them had publicly spoken regarding the cerebrospinal meningitis outbreak spreading across Nigeria, there is a common thread in the assessment of those that had spoken with HealthNewsNG – the outbreak is ridiculous and this is true because of the fact that meningitis is a vaccine-preventable disease yet it has killed more people in Nigeria than Ebola. The question raised is why?
Few days ago, HealthNewsNG team spoke to Uche Odionyenma who is the Director of Medical Laboratory Services in Ondo state; he is also the National Vice President of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN). I started by asking him the most important question – his assessment of Nigeria’s response to the meningitis outbreak.
What do you think of the effort so far and why is the outbreak still spreading?
Nigeria’s response to the Meningitis outbreak is commendable but could have been better if an emergency preparedness plan were in place before the outbreak. Such plans would have been activated as soon as an outbreak is envisaged. The outbreak is still spreading because the fire brigade approach can’t yield the desired result. As at today the FG has only taken delivery of 500,000 doses, a far cry from the urgently required 1.3 million doses.
There is always this concern I have regarding Nigeria’s response to outbreaks in the present regime. Nigeria was able to curtail Ebola but meningitis outbreak has killed more people than Ebola did. As an expert why is this so?
It all depends on planning and emergency preparedness and ability of a set up response team to get necessary funding and political will of government. In the case of Ebola there was a swift reaction by the FG and contacts were traced strictly thus forestalling an epidemic.
As a medical professional, don’t you think it is ridiculous that meningitis is killing hundreds of Nigerians?
Of course yes. Meningitis is a vaccine preventable disease. We use to have vaccine production laboratories at NVRI, Vom and Yaba, Lagos where Medical Laboratory Scientists were producing vaccines for smallpox, yellow fever etc but both later became moribund due to outright neglect by Government. Surprisingly the same government that couldn’t revive vaccine production in country is busy spending huge sums on importation of vaccines. The fact is , the huge sums spent on importation if channeled into resuscitating our vaccine production laboratories will enable us combat any outbreak readily as well as earn foreign exchange from importation to neighbouring countries.
Medical laboratory scientists through the council and association have not been as vocal about meningitis as they usually are during clamor for better pay and professional recognition. This is not portraying the profession in good light among Nigerians. What is your take on this?
It is not true that we have not been vocal about Meningitis. At the Porthacourt Conference of AMLSN, the National President charged the FG on the need to revive the Vaccine production laboratories to help combat vaccine preventable diseases which included meningitis. The issue of meningitis was thoroughly discussed in our phased out radio program- The Determinant. Even today , AMLSN President Alhaji T Y Raheem made useful contributions in the Guardian Newspaper on meningitis. So it’s wrong to say that we are not as vocal about meningitis as we are during clamor for better pay.
What of direct engagement with the government, we have only been hearing from the NCDC. What roles do you see the association and council playing in outbreaks?
As an Association, we are always available and willing to give professional advise to the government if called upon. We believe that we deserve to be part of any Emergency preparedness and response team set up at both Federal and State levels if indeed we are serious about combating outbreaks.
The role of the Association in outbreaks is to advise Government and place their expertise at the service of the people in need.
What will you recommend that Nigerians should do to protect themselves against outbreaks while awaiting the government to get its house together?
What I think Nigerians should do to prevent themselves against outbreaks include: To invest in Vaccine production and research; Ensure good personal and community hygiene practice; Avoid overcrowding and stay in well ventilated places; Equip oneself with health information about any outbreak.
Let’s talk about your AMLSN presidential ambition. Why did you decide to run?
Because l believe l have the zeal, will, experience, drive, intellect and capacity to function effectively and efficiently as AMLSN National President.
What do you think is next for the profession?
What’s next for the Profession is to attain its pride of place in the Health Sector reaching all of its potentials as a first line Profession.
How do you think this could be achieved?
Simply by ensuring that all court judgements in favour of AMLSN are strictly enforced; the duly approved scheme of service for Med. Lab. Scientists are fully implemented at various levels; the National as well as West African Postgraduate College of Med. Lab. Science commences without further delay; adequate provision is in place for engagement of our interns; MLS Corpers adhere strictly to professional practice; and our young Medical Laboratory Scientists are adequately and gainfully employed.
What will you differently from your predecessors?
The advantage I have is my wealth of experience having served twice as National PRO and presently serving as National First Vice President. Experience is key to delivery in office. Whatever methods my predecessors used in achieving results is what I will key into. I will only do differently things they were unable to achieve given the methods employed by them.
What do you think they did not achieve?
They have no doubt put in efforts to achieve them but their efforts will be built upon to achieve the desired result.