By Rafiu Ajakaye
Death toll from Nigeria’s meningitis outbreak has hit 489 as authorities race against time to raise over a billion dollars to import vaccines to halt its spread, Health Minister Isaac Adewole said on Tuesday.
Adewole told an emergency meeting of village heads and top politicians in northwestern Kaduna state the disease had so far spread to 26 out of the country's 36 states and that at least 21 million people were in urgent need of the vaccine.
“So far, 489 deaths have been confirmed in 4,637 cases recorded as of April 10. We call on the traditional institutions and leaders to help spread the message that our people must come forward to be vaccinated,” he said.
“All aspects of the mass media must be engaged to enlighten the people on the safety measures,” he added.
The minister said the U.K. government had delivered some 823,000 doses of the vaccine for type-C meningitis while a million doses for type A meningitis have been received from the World Health Organization.
Meningitis is the swelling of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges, and is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
The latest outbreak is identified as largely from type C meningitis -- the first time such a strain has ravaged Nigeria.
Experts say the most common symptoms of the highly contagious disease are fever, headache and neck stiffness.
Nigeria’s Center for Disease Control said meningitis is airborne, and can also be contacted through respiratory secretions, urging people to ensure proper ventilation and maintain good personal hygiene.
A total of 33 deaths were reported in 2016 from the disease, while 131 died in 2015 across 28 states and the capital city, Abuja.
Nigeria falls in what is known as the meningitis belt in sub-Saharan Africa.