About a year ago, nearly 700 people from 15 countries across the world gathered in Abuja, Nigeria for the first Lassa Fever International Conference in Nigeria. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and our partners hosted this two-day event on the 16th and 17th of January 2019, to mark fifty years since the Lassa fever virus was first discovered in Nigeria. Given the significance of the discovery and outbreaks that have occurred mostly in Nigeria and West Africa, our theme for the conference was 50 Years of Lassa fever: Rising to the Challenge.
Since its discovery in 1969, several countries in West Africa have continued to record outbreaks of Lassa fever. In 2018, Nigeria recorded an unprecedented outbreak affecting 21 States. Although there were more cases of Lassa fever recorded in 2019, we also saw a decrease in the number of deaths among confirmed cases and fewer health care workers infected. This may be linked to improved awareness, patients presenting earlier and better case management. One year after the first Lassa fever International Conference, this is a good opportunity to review our progress in Nigeria and ask, ‘Are we really rising to the challenge?’
The Lassa fever International Conference presented an opportunity for the scientific community to reflect on what is known about the Lassa virus, identify gaps that exist and prioritise a research agenda for the control of Lassa fever. For us at NCDC, the conference was also an avenue to set targets for Nigeria’s prevention, preparedness and response to Lassa fever outbreaks and other public health emergencies.