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Tackling cerebro-spinal meningitis menace: Wither the Nigerian Academy of Science?



Tackling cerebro-spinal meningitis menace: Wither the Nigerian Academy of Science?

In just a couple of weeks of its latest outbreak in Nigeria, the cerebrospinal meningitis [CSM] disease has killed more citizens than any other epidemic in the country’s contemporary health history – with well over 817 deaths and a frightening 8,096 suspected cases currently in hospitals – out of which 237 cases have been laboratory-confirmed!

According to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control [NCDC]’s spokesman, Lawal Bakare, a total of 38 local government areas across the six states of Sokoto, Katsina, Yobe, Zamfara, Kebbi and Niger have reached the epidemic threshold within the last couple of weeks.

The entire country is seems engulfed in fear; even as the Federal Ministry of Health appears considerably overwhelmed in general capacity.

Citizens have blamed the nation’s health authorities for not evolving proactive measures for the eventuality – especially with early precautionary warnings from the Nigerian Meteorological Agency.

Even the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire’s statement earlier in the month seems to confirm the reactive theory of the Nigerian public, ‘’this country before suffers meningitis around this time of year when dry season is turning to rainy season; especially in the area called the meningitis belt ranging all the way from Senegal down to Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The prevailing germ was the Meningitis A; but the current outbreak is the Type C variety. If you are immune to Type A doesn’t make you immune to Type C; and because Type C was very rare, the availability of vaccines for it has been very meagre relatively.’’

From the foregoing therefore, government and its concerned agencies were clearly not ignorant of the imminent outbreak and indeed, its latest manifest types.

But the national approach had been that of expectation; rather than anticipation – wherein studied precautions are deployed in readiness of its arrival. Here, one cannot help recalling Prof. Chinedu Nwajiuba’s description of our prevailing national culture.

The current Vice Chancellor of [the] Federal University, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, [Ebonyi State] at a recent town-hall meeting with parents, staff and students of his Engineering Faculty said, ‘’Nigerians operate the culture of functioning the least at the workplace; but expecting to reap the biggest reward thereto!’’

The implication of this is that there is an abhorrent culture of what is called the workplace idleness in the nation’s labour consciousness. For every country that has ever succeeded, its people had been habitual researchers of their country’s persistent challenges – with a view to conquering such with localcontent capabilities – even if outsourced.

In the contemporary development question, every country has a set of unique challenges militating against its manifestation among the comity of nations. And each of those nations did ultimately overcome its malaise through concerted efforts of its specialized workforce.

This is why the patriotic declaration of the NCDC’s Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu to this effect deserves national applause. Hear him, “The NCDC will continue to engage proactively through all our channels of communication – online and offline.

We will also continue to work with our health reporters and journalists across the country to ensure easy reporting of facts. We need all hands on deck.’’ Indeed, ‘needing all hands on deck’ couldn’t be more applicable in any other case than in this very matter of urgent national importance.

But come on, our health authorities must learn to never put the cart before the horse. In the current quest to stem the meningitis carnage, sustainable solution must first be secured before embarking on any media spree. Media advocacy is a must, but there must first be some palpable scientific breakthrough from the bench for the newsroom to report!

It is the impression of this feature that the NCDC and its supervising Health Ministry are yet to explore one of the most crucial options in the present public health crisis – that of engaging the Nigerian Academy of Science.

Formed in 1977 as an independent body of Nigeria’s foremost scientists who are globally acknowledged in their sundry fields of science, engineering, and technology, it has the mandate to ensure the advancement of science, technology and innovation [STI] with the primary of aim of ensuring improved quality of life for the Nigerian society through the promotion and application of science and technology.

With its main mission of strengthening the nation’s ability to deliver the fruits of science and technology for its people, why should such a foremost scientific body not be consulted and tasked with helping to provide a permanent solution to the perennial meningitis and other epidemics? It has happened in other climes, it could as well in Nigeria.

For instance, when John F. Kennedy was President of the United State of America and all of a sudden it looked like the Soviet Union had overtaken them in the space research race by sending Yuri Gagarin into the orbit round the Earth, President Kennedy gathered the leading American scientists [under the auspices of the US National Science Academies] and demanded they figure out how America would put men not just into the orbit round the Earth, but land them on the Moon – at any cost, that is!

This is the kind of things that nations do: they identify major problems that are of national importance to them and task their scientists to produce the solutions.

The Nigerian Government should very well rally up the distinguished Fellows of [the] Nigerian Academy of Science and task them with coming up with the requisite vaccines and know-how that would permanently stamp out meningitis and other public health issues in the country.

The Nigerian Academy of Science and its distinguished Fellows, are famous the world over for always proving their professional mettles during crises in and outside the country.

A case in point is the 2014 Ebola disease outbreak in which the world praised the nation’s health authorities led by the then Federal Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, who worked with other experts, including Prof. Oyewale Tomori, a world acclaimed virologist that was then the President of the Nigerian Academy of Science to successfully deal with the menace with minimum casualties recorded nationwide.

In a recent interview to a popular national daily, Prof. Mosto Onuoha, current Present of The Nigerian Academy of Science, said inter alia, ‘’… the Academy has since its inception had a history of beneficial relationship with Government.

For instance, Nigeria’s first National Science and Technology Policy was formulated in 1986 in the realization of the fact that overall national development could only be sustained through effective application of scientific and technological skills for the production of goods and services.

So the policy was designed to create harmony in the quest for knowledge about the environment through R & D; and the use of that knowledge to ensure better quality of life for our people. The Academy was actively involved in the formulation of that policy.’’

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