The World Health Organisation has identified late diagnosis of Lassa fever patients as the reason for the high mortality rate of the disease in Nigeria.
In a statement on Monday, the health agency gave an official breakdown of the number of Lassa fever cases in Africa and called on governments and stakeholders in affected countries to commit more resources to early diagnosis of the viral disease.
It stated, “Lassa fever has killed more than 160 people in West Africa, most of them in Nigeria, since November 2015. Nigeria, Benin, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Togo have reported more than 300 cases of Lassa fever and 167 deaths.
“Nigeria accounts for the majority of the cases with 266 cases and 138 deaths reported in 22 of the country’s 34 provinces as at 21 March 2016. Benin has recorded 51 cases and 25 deaths. Many of these lives could have been saved if a rapid diagnostic test were available so that people could receive treatment early.”
An expert in haemorrhagic fevers at WHO, Dr. Pieere Formenty, stated that late diagnosis would lead to the death of 60 per cent of patients that have contracted the virus.
Formenty said, “Without early diagnosis and treatment, one in five infections result in severe disease, where the virus affects several organs such as the liver, spleen and kidneys.
“We need resources to invest in diagnostics to easily, accurately and safely test for Lassa fever as we do for malaria and HIV. Without a proper diagnosis, many people do not receive the correct treatment and that is why we see so many people with Lassa fever dying each year.”