By Moses Emorinken, Abuja
The Federal Government has revealed that it is currently developing a vaccine for Lassa fever. The vaccine which is in its first stage of trial, is being developed in Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Benin, by top Nigerian scientist, alongside experts from Germany.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who made this known at a press briefing Friday in Abuja, said, “Top Nigerian scientists in Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital are working on a vaccine for Lassa fever in collaboration with German experts. They have conducted a first stage trial. It might take a couple of years to completely develop it because developing a vaccine is in stages.
“However, testing if it works and is safe, requires some time. It has to go through several stages of quality control before it can be deployed. There is a lot of progress at the moment.
“Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital is Nigeria’s centre for excellence for that kind of sickness – viral hemorrhagic infections. It is where a lot of research is being conducted, and where a lot of tests are being done. They have a lot of equipment and get a lot of support from abroad including German, British and American Institutes”.
The Minister also explained that the country has five strategically placed diagnostic laboratories for testing Lassa fever.
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“We have five laboratories that can diagnose Lassa fever, and they are strategically placed. In fact, we are in the process of getting a six one now courtesy of West African Health Organization, which we also want to place strategically so that the distance towards getting samples to laboratories is minimal. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) will decide on the strategic location.
“Last weekend, I was in Kano and the Governor took me to a very good laboratory, but it is not yet activated. The Director-General of the NCDC will visit that laboratory together with the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, and also the Registrar of the Medical Laboratory Council.
“They will look at the assets there; if there are machines not working, we can arrange for them to be activated and add it to the network of laboratories.
“We have also been in conversations to bind all the laboratories in Nigeria, whether they are owned by government, private, mission, and others, into a network where they can cooperate with each other, to ease access to diagnostic capacity”.
Currently, there are five diagnostic centres for Lassa fever in the country, namely: National Reference Laboratory in Abuja, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Federal Medical Centre Owo and Alex Ekwueme Federal Teaching Hospital Abakalilki.
Concerning the strange disease in Benue state, the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said, “Benue is still not fully resolved. We have two NCDC teams there at the moment to support the response more. The affected village in Benue is very hard to access, so you can’t get there with a vehicle; you have to at some point use bikes to get to the village.
“More samples were collected over the past few days and are on their way to Abuja at the moment. We will go through a series of further tests to define exactly what is happen. It is either a chemical poisoning of something that the villagers have eaten or an infectious disease. So, we are going to continue carrying out these tests”.