In mid-March, 16-year-old Saifullahi Bulama, residing in Garin Mu’azu, located in Sule Tankankar Local Government Area (LGA) in Jigawa State, Nigeria, was healthy and running around with his friends. Suddenly, he contracted cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM).
He recounts how he went to bed that night and could not stand up the next morning.
“My legs were not working. I had a temperature and my body was aching. I was rushed to the hospital, where I was admitted and treated for four days,” he says.
He was lucky to survive the disease but has suffered from partial hearing loss as a result.
“I am grateful to be alive. Some people who got the disease in my village died,” says Saifullahi.
Danladi Ali, a 39-year-old town crier from the same village who also contracted the disease experienced the same symptoms.
He left home in the morning in good health, and on returning from his workplace at the end of the day, suddenly fell ill.
“I had a headache, my body ached and I could not turn my neck or lift my legs. Everything had become stiff. I thought I was dead. I cannot remember how I got to the hospital,” he explains.
Danladi and Saifullahi received treatment at the General Hospital in Gumel, with support from the Jigawa State Government, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and WHO.
Cerebrospinal Meningitis is an inflammation of the thin layer of connective tissue that covers the brain and the spinal cord. It is highly infectious and can kill up to 50% of people infected if left untreated. Even when treated, 10% to 20% of people who survive will have after-effects such as deafness, loss of sight, and loss of limbs, among others.
According to Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), 919 suspected cases and 49 deaths have been reported in Jigawa State from October 2022 to March 2023.
“The first case of meningitis in the state was reported from Garin Mu’azu. It was detected early because of intensive surveillance activities and the help of community informants within the border Nigerian villages,” says Lawan Rabiu, the Disease Surveillance Notification Officer (DSNO) for Sule Tankankar LGA.
He explains that the outbreak was transmitted to the border villages due to transborder activities from the Republic of Niger, where cases of the Neisseria meningitides serogroup C outbreak had earlier been reported.
Jigawa State shares a border with the Zinder region in the Republic of Niger.
As cerebrospinal meningitis is a vaccine-preventable disease, immunization is one of the solutions to interrupt its transmission.
The Jigawa State government, in collaboration with WHO and its partners including, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, conducted a six-day reactive immunization campaign in 17 wards of affected border towns during the month of March .
The campaign targeted 194 486 people aged 1 to 29 years for vaccination with multivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccines across 17 hotspot wards. At the end of the campaign, 226 440 people were vaccinated.
Back in Garin Mu’azu, Danladi is educating his community on the importance of vaccination to keep the disease at bay.
“I tell them how serious meningitis can be. I advise them they have the opportunity to prevent the disease with the vaccine and should not miss it,” he says.
Yau Shuaibu, the village head of Garin Mu’azu, says traditional leaders under the Gumel emirate council also agreed to mobilize people in their communities to get vaccinated. There are 46 nomadic settlements under his jurisdiction and his town shares a border with the Republic of Niger.
“We thank the government, WHO and others for bringing the vaccine,” he says. “My son and over 40 people in my village and other settlements fell ill from the disease. Some died and we want to stop the spread.”
At Gumel, the Primary Healthcare Manager, Kabiru Ahmed Mohammed vaccinations at mosques and schools are among the innovative strategies employed to ensure that all eligible persons are covered.
“We took vaccinations to the schools and also use the opportunity of the fasting period to vaccinate all those who come to the mosque for Friday and evening prayers. We are also working with traditional and religious leaders, who buttress the importance of the vaccine,” he says.
The WHO Jigawa State Coordinator, Dr Inuwa Bello, says to successfully mitigate the outbreak, the WHO is supporting the state government with technical and financial resources.
This includes training and capacity building of health workers in the state, strengthening of the integrated surveillance system, including community surveillance; enhancing case management of patients affected with the disease, transport of samples to the national laboratory, and risk communication on radio stations in the state.
WHO coordinated with the National Centre for Disease Control and the Nigeria Primary Health Care Development Agency to secure over 272 000 doses of the conjugate vaccine from the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision.
“These actions ensured a successful fight and declining cases in the affected communities,” says Dr bello.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO) – Nigeria.