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    • Nigeria continues to respond to largest recorded Lassa fever outbreak
    Nigeria continues to respond to largest recorded Lassa fever outbreak

    Nigeria continues to respond to largest recorded Lassa fever outbreak

    Nigeria continues to respond to largest recorded Lassa fever outbreak
    ALIMA (The Alliance for International Medical Action) continues to support the response to the ongoing outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria, which the World Health Organization says is now the largest ever recorded in the country. According to the latest figures released by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), 1,386 suspected cases and 114 deaths (81 confirmed) were reported between January 1 and March 11, across 19 of Nigeria’s 36 States. Of the suspected cases, 365 have been confirmed by laboratory tests.

    Due to the unusually high patient caseload, the treatment centers are struggling to meet the demand for bed space, as well as Ribavirin, the recommended medication for treatment.

    “Since we began supporting the treatment center at the Federal Medical Centre in Owo, there has been a large influx of patients,” said Dr. Dally Muamba, ALIMA’s medical team leader for the Lassa fever response in Nigeria. “We are currently supporting the Centre in taking care of all patients free of charge and are managing complicated cases at the same time.”

    To support the NCDC’s response to the outbreak, ALIMA has been on the ground in two of the most-affected States, Edo and Ondo, since January, and continues to work alongside the NCDC and other partners to help contain the outbreak, care for patients and protect health workers. This includes supporting case management, facilitating laboratory diagnostics, patient triage, and reinforcing Infection Prevention and Control measures among health workers and patients.

    To increase bed capacity, the Ondo State Government and ALIMA rehabilitated and is now supporting the 35-bed treatment unit at the Federal Medical Centre in Owo, in Ondo State. At the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo State, where bed occupancy has exceeded 200% at times, the opening of two new semi-permanent structures in collaboration with NCDC has increased the bed capacity from 24 to 40 patients.

    “ALIMA will continue to work alongside the NCDC and other partners to reinforce the capacity of health workers, care for patients, provide medications and other supplies, and plan to support contract tracing of suspected cases within communities,” Dr. Muamba said.

    Given the numerous question about this specific disease, ALIMA is also developing, in parallel to its emergency operations, a research program. In collaboration with its partners, including INSERM 1219, ALIMA is coordinating with the NCDC and WHO to develop an observational study of the clinical cases and prepare sites for further clinical research on better treatment for Lassa fever.

    “There are many challenges in setting up research, obtaining ethical clearance and coordinating with all partners, before the outbreak is over,” said Augustin Augier, secretary general of ALIMA. “But now, thanks to the ALERRT consortium, the WHO R&D blueprint agenda and the strong leadership of NCDC, it is feasible during this particular outbreak.”

    Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever that is usually transmitted to humans from the infected urine or feces of the Mastomys rat. Human-to-human transmission is also possible, via contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, putting health workers at an increased risk of infection.

    Symptoms of the virus include fever, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, sore throat and hemorrhaging. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, during outbreaks Lassa fever mortality rate can reach 30%. Cases are best managed in isolation units and using a medication called Ribavirin.


    The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) is a medical humanitarian organization that works hand-in-hand with a network of local organizations to provide quality medical care to the most vulnerable populations in emergency situations and recurrent crises. Based in Dakar, Senegal, ALIMA has treated over 2 million patients in 12 countries since its creation in 2009, and launched more than a dozen research projects focused on malnutrition, malaria and Ebola. ALIMA has extensive experience responding to outbreaks, including Ebola in Guinea, Rift Valley Fever in Niger, Lassa fever in Togo and Dengue fever in Burkina Faso.

    In Nigeria, ALIMA has been working in in the northeast in Borno State since July 2016, where our teams were the first to provide medical and ambulatory nutritional care to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host populations in Monguno. The program has since expanded to include the opening of a clinic near the makeshift camps for internally displaced persons in Muna Garage, on the outskirts of Maiduguri, which provides primary medical care to children under the age of five, and treatment for cases of severe malnutrition at the Intensive Therapeutic Feeding Center at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, in Maiduguri.

    The response to the outbreak of Lassa fever has been made possible by funding from the ELMA Relief Foundation, the Start Fund and the World Health Organization.

    *Photo: Etinosa Yvonne / ALIMA 

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