A senior lecturer in the department of microbiology at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Dr. Akyala Ishaku has highlighted the crucial role of laboratories in fighting emerging infectious diseases in Nigeria.
During a press conference held today (July 3, 2023) in Abuja, Ishaku emphasised the significance of laboratories in surveillance, early detection, accurate diagnosis, research and development, and capacity building.
According to Ishaku, effectively managing and controlling emerging infectious diseases necessitates robust surveillance, early detection, rapid response and collaboration among healthcare professionals, researchers and public health authorities. He pointed out that this is especially relevant considering the country’s history of outbreaks, including Ebola, Lassa fever and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, Ishaku stressed the importance of collaboration between laboratories, academia, and international organisations, as it can foster innovation and contribute to the development of vaccines, antiviral drugs and diagnostic tools tailored to Nigeria’s specific needs.
Ishaku acknowledged that emerging infectious diseases pose significant threats to global health security, and Nigeria, being a populous and diverse country, is no exception. He stated, “Nigeria has experienced its fair share of outbreaks, including Ebola, Lassa fever, and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective control and mitigation strategies are crucial in combating these diseases, and laboratories play a vital role in this endeavor. The World Health Organization (WHO) has laid out strategies that can assist Nigeria in identifying, stopping and preventing the spread of emerging and re-emerging diseases”.
The timely identification and surveillance of emerging infectious diseases were highlighted as fundamental for effective management. Ishaku explained, “Laboratories equipped with advanced diagnostic technologies and skilled personnel play a pivotal role in swiftly detecting and confirming cases. Accurate diagnosis is key to effective disease management. Laboratories can employ cutting-edge diagnostic techniques, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, serological assays, and next-generation sequencing, to identify specific pathogens and determine the spread of the disease”.
Ishaku also emphasised that laboratories serve as hubs for research and development, facilitating the study of emerging pathogens, their epidemiology and potential interventions. Through such research, laboratories contribute to a deeper understanding of these diseases and their impact on public health.
To ensure an effective laboratory response to emerging infectious diseases, Ishaku highlighted the importance of building a skilled workforce. He advised investing in training programs and continuous professional development for laboratory personnel to ensure the availability of well-trained experts capable of handling outbreaks.
According to Science Nigeria, emerging infectious diseases refer to newly identified or re-emerging infectious diseases that are increasing in incidence or geographic range, or have the potential to do so. These diseases are caused by pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites, which have recently evolved or spread to affect humans. Various factors, including changes in the environment, human behaviour, population growth, international travel, and interactions between humans and animals, can contribute to the emergence of these diseases.
Examples of emerging infectious diseases include Ebola, Zika virus, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), avian influenza and COVID-19. These diseases often pose significant threats to global health security, spreading rapidly and causing severe illness or death, with limited initial treatment options or preventive measures available.