ZAMFARA, Nigeria, May 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When
six-year old Mohammed Waziga arrived at a health centre in
northwest Nigeria complaining of joint pains and drowsiness, he
was given an injection and sent home without any concerns.
However his suffering grew worse, and his family rushed him
to a different facility in Zamfara state, where he was diagnosed
with meningitis, marking yet another case in an outbreak which
has killed more than 800 people so far this year in the north.
"We are grateful to Allah that he got better," his
grandmother Zainab said at the health centre, sitting next to
Mohammed who was lying on a makeshift bed under a shea tree
because there was no room for him in any of the wards.
"He keeps asking me when we will go home, and I worry again
that I will lose him," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Thousands of meningitis cases have been reported by the
health ministry in the northern states Zamfara, Kebbi, and
Sokoto since November 2016, in Nigeria's worst outbreak of the
disease since it killed more than 2,000 people in 2009.
Meningitis is the inflammation of tissue surrounding the
brain and spinal cord, which can be caused by viral or bacterial
infections. It spreads mainly through kisses, sneezes, coughs
and in close living quarters.
Nigeria has launched a mass vaccination campaign and started
conducting house-to-house searches to identify those afflicted
with meningitis for treatment, as the state and aid agencies
race to contain the surge in infections in recent months.
"What is important now is that we provide an information
vaccine to our people, on how the virus is contracted and warn
against cross infection," said Yusuf Lawal, state coordinator
for the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH2) programme.
RACE TO CONTAIN
In mainly Muslim Zamfara, home to over 3.2 million people
and known for its strict religious Sharia code, health centres
are full to the brim, with makeshift wards made of bamboo setup
outside of hospital grounds for sick and recovering patients.
"Initially the response from the state government was not
appropriate," said Bature Mannir, secretary of the Nigerian
Medical Association (NMA).
State governor Abdulaziz Yari was reported by local media
last month as saying the outbreak was God's punishment for sin.
"However things changed and the (response) is yielding a
very good result as the number of cases have drastically
reduced," Mannir added. "The state and all other stakeholders
need to sustain the tempo until the situation is contained."
The state government has set up a committee to distribute
vaccines and drugs, while aid organisations like Medecins Sans
Frontieres (MSF) are working with the Nigeria Centre for Disease
Control (NCDC) to try to control the meningitis outbreak.
At least 1.3 million vaccines have been acquired, 500,000 of
which were provided by World Health Organisation, according to
the federal government.
Yet given the regular occurrence of meningitis, which killed
33 people in Nigeria last year, more must be done to strengthen
health systems in the affected states, say experts like Mannir.
Such investment may be a long way off as the government
struggles to deal with its first recession in 25 years amid
falling oil prices, and a humanitarian crisis created by
Islamist militant group Boko Haram, Nigeria observers say.
Sitting in a clinic in Zamfara, where her two sons, aged 13
and four, were recovering from meningitis, Zainab Abdulazeez
stared at the empty bed of a child who died during the night.
"I cried and cried ... it could have been my children."
(Reporting By Eromo Egbejule, Editing by Kieran Guilbert and
Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)