Nigerian health officials say more than 800 people have died in a viral outbreak of meningitis in the northern region of the country.
Nigerian Health Minister Prof. Isaac Adewole updated the press on Wednesday in the capital of Abuja on the death toll, according to the Guardian.
“As of yesterday (Tuesday), the number of deaths stood at 813,” he told journalists after a cabinet meeting. As of now, we are noticing a decline.
“This is week 16. This is also expected because we are moving away from the active season. We are confident that in the next couple of weeks everything will be over,” Adewole said.
In the previous week, the government had put the number of dead at 745 people from an estimated 8,000 suspected cases. Health officials say five states in Nigeria’s northern region were worst affected by the epidemic.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the membrane that covers the spinal cord. The most common causes are viral and bacterial infections. The disease is often spread by close contact with those who are coughing and sneezing, which are the two chief methods of transmission.
Nigeria lies on the “meningitis belt” of sub-Saharan Africa that stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, where outbreaks are a regular occurrence.
Nigerian health officials say an early response to the disease was hindered by a lack of vaccines for the type C strain of meningitis responsible for the latest epidemic.
The authorities have since responded by importing a large volume of vaccines in addition to launching a mass immunization program in the affected region.
Health experts say a mass education and enlightenment campaign of the local population is also key in curbing future outbreaks of the disease.
Earlier in April, Abdulaziz Yari, the governor of Zamfara, one of the states worst hit by the outbreak with close to 300 recorded deaths, sparked outrage and drew condemnation from across the country for his comments attributing the epidemic to God’s anger over the sins of Nigerians.