Africa is faced with the spread of yet another potential health hazard and a cause for serious concern owing to the discovery of the Zika virus, which was erstwhile restricted to troubling the Americas, in Cape Verde. Yesterday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed the presence of the lethal virus in Africa and advised African countries to reduce their exposure to mosquitoes, raise awareness (particularly amongst pregnant women with whom the disease has reportedly demonstrated its worst effects yet), and increase the levels of preparedness.
Cape Verde’s location in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa, and its subsequent proximity to countries such as Nigeria has caused Professor Oyewole Tomori, the President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Head of the WHO’s Advisory Panel on Yellow fever, and Chairman of the Lassa fever Control Committee in Nigeria, to urge the country to worry about a spread of the Zika virus to the country, coupled with an increase in the spread of yellow fever. The deadly threat posed by Zika virus and yellow fever lies in their shared relationship with the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the viruses. To this effect, Professor Tomori is calling for the resuscitation of the surveillance system at the Department of Virology and the National Arbovirus Research Institute, located in the University of Ibadan and Enugu respectively.
The prominent virologist adviced that Nigeria should step up its surveillance for the transmission of the Zika virus and expand vaccination methods to contain the yellow fever malignancy, to which more than 100 million Nigerians are susceptible. This is even more so as Nigeria failed to participate in a mass preventive vaccination against yellow fever that took place on the continent between 2007 and 2012.
Professor Tomori’s emphasis on increased attention towards the control of yellow fever – which currently has no cure – in Nigeria also stems from the fact that since other African countries, such as Angola, have recently recorded significant success in surviving a drastic outbreak of the disease, the WHO cannot declare a global health emergency in which the international community would be obligated to come to the country’s rescue.