Lawmakers bemoan Nigeria’s failure to produce Lassa vaccine over five decades


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The leadership of the House of Representative Committee on COVID-19 have expressed disappointment at the nation’s inability to develop a potent Lassa fever vaccine after its outbreak in the country over 51 years ago.

They described the situation as shameful to a nation like Nigeria with notable research institutions like the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) and others, which ought to be at the forefront of scientific innovations.

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus, a member of the arenavirus family of viruses.

The Lassa virus is transmitted to humans through exposure to food or household items contaminated with urine or faeces of infected Mastomys rats. The disease is endemic in Nigeria and other West African countries with rodent population.

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Named after a town where the first case occurred in 1969, an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 infections of Lassa fever occur annually, with approximately 5,000 deaths.

Speaking during a recent tour of NIMR’s facilities, Chairman, House Committee on COVID-19, Dr Haruna Mshelia decried the failure of the nation to produce a Lassa vaccine after many decades of the infection in the country.

Msheila stated that the House of Representatives would push for funding, provided NIMR is ready to come up with Lassa vaccine that can be supplied across Sub Saharan Africa.

“We had an interaction with the PTF and the various agencies after the NIMR DG made a presentation that we included in the budget to ensure that the laboratories are equipped.

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“Along the line during our discussion, we discovered that there was a void, particularly with Lassa fever. It has been around since 1969 and has no vaccine up till now.

“We think a very big institute like NIMR should be in the forefront of seeking solution to Lassa fever. You must have heard us encouraged the management to come up with a proposal to present before the speaker for consideration in the next budget,” he said.

In his contribution, Deputy Chairman of the committee, Sam Onuigbo, charged the leadership of the institution on expansion of its research activities and recruitment of more experienced scientists to aid its objectives.

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“It is a shame Nigeria has been unable to develop Lassa vaccine. But I know we have the potential to produce the sort of COVID-19 vaccine that Pfizer is celebrated for today” he remarked.

Responding to the legislators remarks, NIMR Director General, Prof. Babatunde Lawal Salako attributed non-existence of vaccine to lack of funding.

He requested that a dedicated fund be made available for the vaccine project to be made a reality.

“There should be a dedicated fund somewhere. If we have such fund, I can tell you that within the next few years, we will come up with something.
“The staff, manpower and expertise are there. We just need a dedicated fund to equip and speed up the process,” he said.





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