Like Ebola, like Meningitis: The sad story of Africa's vulnerability to deadly and infectious diseases

Like Ebola, like Meningitis: The sad story of Africa's vulnerability to deadly and infectious diseases

On July 20, 2014, Nigerians woke up with the news of a deadly disease imported from Liberia by one Patrick Sawyer, who flew into Nigeria seriously sick of Ebola virus disease. That was the first index case reported in Nigeria since it first broke out in 1976. Ebola disease was first discovered in 1976 in Sudan and Zaire, countries in East Africa region. It infected over 284 people with a mortality rate of over 53 percent in both countries.

Prior to 2014 when the disease broke out again in Africa, the last known of the disease was discovered in 1994 in Cote d’Ivoire when a female etiologist performing a necropsy on a dead chimpanzee from the Tai forest, Cote d'Ivoire, accidentally infected herself during the necropsy operation.

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, first cases notified in March 2014, was the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the virus was first discovered in 1976. There were more cases and deaths in the 2014 outbreak than all others combined in other parts of Africa. Lives were lost in Sierra Leone, Senegal, Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Mali.

This is why African countries are prone to deadly diseases as Meningitis spread in Nigeria

A child receiving treatment against Meningitis

Prior to the entrance of Sawyer to Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city, the ailment was alien to Nigerians. Those who, perhaps, may have known about it, only heard of experiences outside Nigeria but not within the Nigerian state. This is the reason why doctors could not detect it before it affected them at the hospital.

The entrance of Sawyer to Nigeria opened a floodgate of deaths beginning with the doctor, Ameyo Adadevoh, who treated him at First Consultant Hospital in Obalende, Lagos. After the death of Adadevoh, other deaths followed and the Nigerian government swung into action and brought the disease under control.

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The speed and political will with which the federal government under former President Goodluck Jonathan tackled the spread was powerfully commended by Nigerians, though some are of the view that the federal government fought the disease because it was actually killing the rich, the influential and the great in the country. But with concerted efforts, the disease was brought down.

However, it claimed so many lives and there was fear and apprehension across the country. It was one of the biggest woes of Nigeria as it was breaking forth in places while it was being controlled in other areas.

Again, in late 2015 and early 2016, Lassa fever ravaged many states killing hundreds and rendering the Nigerian medical system highly ineffective. States which felt they were secured, like Edo state, were broken through and many residents were taken by the deadly disease. It was a nightmare to Nigeria as many states and the federal government spent huge sum of money to fight off the disease.

One thing in Nigeria is that these diseases are somehow seasonal and the Nigerian government has not been able to fight off the diseases to create a safer environment for its citizens. Nigerian government is only interested in fire brigade approach to issues and as soon as the case on ground is handled, it is abandoned.

This is why African countries are prone to deadly diseases as Meningitis spread in Nigeria

Health care providers attending to children with Meningitis

And just about three weeks ago, Cerebro Spinal Meningitis (CSM), a disease defined as an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, broke out beginning with Sokoto and Zamfara states. The disease has spread to other 14 states making it a total of 16 states being ravaged by the deadly disease in Nigeria.

The other 14 states are Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Nassarawa, Jigawa, Federal Capital Territory Abuja, Gombe, Taraba, Yobe, Kano, Osun, Cross River, Lagos and Plateau. The federal ministry of health said 90 local government councils with an estimated 2524 people are currently battling with the disease while 328 people are recorded dead.

The disease has spread across the country and mostly affecting states in the upper parts of the country which fall within the African Meningitis Belt. Other countries that are facing similar outbreaks at the moment include other West-African neighbours like Niger, Chad, Cameroun, Togo and Burkina Faso.

Meningitis which is now the dreaded disease ravaging the country is said to be caused when the protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord become infected. Research reveals that meningitis is not always easy to recognize. In many cases meningitis may be progressing with no symptoms at all.

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It was gathered that meningitis is two types, viral meningitis which is the common form and bacterial meningitis which is said to be most serious. Bacterial meningitis is said to cause stroke, paralysis and even death if not given adequate medical attention.

Research also indicates that bacterial that cause meningitis can live in human body and the environment. In many cases they are harmless. Bacterial meningitis occurs when these bacteria get into the bloodstream and travel to the brain and spinal cord, then an infection occurs.

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the bacteria travels through the air. But most of the germs that can lead to bacterial meningitis aren’t contagious. In fact, the bacteria that cause meningitis are less contagious than viruses that cause the cold or flu, learnt.

Bacterial meningitis can lead to severe health complications, such as stroke and brain damage. It can even be fatal. Complications of the disease are often permanent.

Reports are emerging that the federal government is to spend $1.1billion to vaccinate 22million people in five Northern states against Meningitis. This, the federal ministry of health said, will involve the procurement of vaccines alone for five states. The ministry further said to vaccinate people in the 16 states, it will involve a total of at least $3.3billion.

But one question that is begging for answer is why African countries are prone to various communicable diseases. Many have given answers to the questions. Research has shown that Africa is a continent with diverse climate from widespread desert to tropical rain forest.

This is why African countries are prone to deadly diseases as Meningitis spread in Nigeria

A child undergoing Meningitis vaccination

It was learnt that the Africa environment is fertile for both diseases as well as disease vectors, that is animals that carry diseases that can lead to human infection. African environmental conditions, research shows, make it easier for diseases to develop and also allow vectors to flourish all year round.

Also, learnt that in Africa and other very highly overpopulated areas, the planet alone cannot provide anywhere near enough food on its own to give everybody a strong immune system, because the planet - especially now - is so abused and neglected that it can only naturally support far fewer human beings in Africa with enough food stuff to ensure everybody develops a strong immune system.

Again, following poor education of majority of Africans, the population keeps increasing, which in turn means that they inevitably run out of food at some point, since the requirement for food always increases with more population. And so, their immune systems cannot be built strong enough to battle off the diseases that spread in a densely populated area, and so these diseases never go away.

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There have been many diseases that came to the west, such as the SARS epidemic, but because of the western immune systems are much stronger due to their not-so-rampantly overpopulated population and their ability to grow enough food to feed a significant portion of their population, those diseases cannot spread out of control.

A scientist, Morrison Nelson, says because nobody bothers to conduct research on illnesses that almost never affect the more affluent populations is one of the reasons why Africa is like a dumping ground for deadly diseases.

Africa in general is very poor compared to other continents and countries and while they need the medical help, scientists know those residents cannot afford medicine even if it was available. Therefore if researchers cannot monetize from a drug that requires years of research, they simply will not dedicate their career to it.

“It sounds terrible to say, but research requires a lot of education and money and it's usually spent knowing that there will be some return from the recipient. Why do you think there are so many heart medicines and diabetes medicine?

“These are recurring conditions that westerners and other countries encounter, but they are willing and able to pay to save their lives. Africa depends a lot on outside help for many issues besides medically related problems so it can be very bureaucratic and difficult to even get approval,” Morrison said.

Investigation also shows that some of the countries in Africa have been in conflict for a very long period of time. This is due to the effects of colonization and the pullout of many of those nations during the last century. Some of the nations gained independence and succeeded, while others were not prepared for self-governance. This had many follow-on effects.

Countries that weren't prepared for self-governance fell into disarray. In the absence of good leadership some fall into civil war, others to military dictatorship. Military dictators have a long history of being more concerned with ensuring their rule and not as good with ensuring civilian services. In civil war, of course, it is even worse.

Because of the disorder, there are usually floods of refugees moving from one destabilized country to one a bit better. This acts toward destabilizing that country as well. In cases like Rwanda, it can lead to more civil conflict and disaster.

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Because of the instability of the nations, there is little effort put into building the sanitation, healthcare and education infrastructure necessary to combat diseases. Governments can't afford to spend money on luxuries like clean streets and quality hospitals.

Also, since most STDs are related to the education of primarily the female population and education is poor, diseases are seen running wild in Africa. Like in South Africa, education on diseases is so bad that there is a common misconception that men with HIV can cure it by having sexual relations with children. This of course spreads the disease in the worst possible way and is responsible for many child abuses in that country.

The African continent also favors many other types of diseases, such as malaria, typhoid as well as other tropical diseases. This is something the rest of world is prepared to deal with, but with such systemic problems, it is just one more thing that is holding back the people of Africa, making them vulnerable to various outbreak of diseases.

Meanwhile, has brought to us signs in your body that will tell you the need to go for HIV test. Watch the video


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