With 328 people officially dead and almost 3, 000 infected, meningitis is causing tears and sorrow across Nigeria.
It is suspected that the disease, which occurs almost yearly between February and April, has killed far more than 328 and infected thousands more.
This year’s outbreak is a little different because it is the Type C virus, as against Type A that could be vaccinated against. The WHO vaccination in the country was against Type A.
Medical experts say the disease usually occurs among people living in poorly ventilated houses in overcrowded rooms and neighbourhoods during the heat period.
Hardest hit have been 15 northern states including Zamfara and Kano.
Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara caused a stir Tuesday by saying the outbreak was a direct punishment from God for Nigerians’ various sins. Commentators on social media called him “illiterate”, some saying if there was a sin it was that committed by governors like him and not poor little kids and women.
Nigeria appears ill-prepared for the meningitis outbreak. The Federal Ministry of Health has only 50,000 doses of the vaccine. At the National Hospital, Abuja, a dose is sold N6, 000. Since it is usually a disease that afflicts poor people, who cannot afford the price even if the vaccines were available, it is now an emergency. Public enlightenment alone won’t work.