Nigeria to host first Lassa fever treatment trials in 40 years | global development

Clinical trials of the first new treatment for Lassa fever in almost 40 years are scheduled to take place in Nigeria this year.

This neglected tropical disease kills about 5,000 people a year and is endemic in West Africa.

Trials will begin in September at the Federal Medical Center, Owo (FMCO), Ondo State, which has high rates of the rodent-borne virus. It is the first work on a new treatment since ribavirin was approved for use in 1986. Recently, the drug’s effectiveness has been questioned.

Dr Femi Ayodeji, head of research and infection control at FMCO, said: “It is important to get new treatments to avoid serious cases. “With new medications that better treat Lassa fever virus, the need for supportive treatments will be reduced for some patients who develop acute kidney injury and cardiovascular respiratory complications.”

Lassa fever is considered an epidemic threat to global health and a research priority by the World Health Organization. In West Africa, between 300,000 and 500,000 cases are recorded annually. The mortality rate is around 1%, but rises to 15% among people hospitalized with severe cases. Symptoms include fever, cough, vomiting and diarrhea, and it can affect the liver, spleen and kidneys.

The Nigeria Center for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) has recorded 6,226 suspected cases and 160 deaths so far this year. More than 60% of these cases are in Ondo, Edo and Bauchi states.

Dr. Manir Jega, director of health at the Nigerian Red Cross, said the numbers are of great concern because some states are “ill-equipped to handle an outbreak.”

The trials are run by the Integrate consortium of 15 leading research institutes, health centers and humanitarian organizations from 10 countries, which will test the effectiveness of new and existing drugs currently used to treat other diseases.

Dr. Marie Jaspard, an infectious disease specialist at the Saint-Antoine hospital in Paris and a clinical researcher at the French institute Inserm, which is involved in the trials, said: “We will evaluate several other projects (drugs) against ribavirin… The interest of this The proof is that we can eliminate some treatment arms that do not work and add new treatments. We will not waste time and patience on drugs that do not work.

He said it was important to find new ways to treat the virus as deadlier strains were emerging in the region, most recently in Benin, which recorded higher mortality rates.

More trials are expected in Ebonyi State in Nigeria and in Liberia and Guinea as part of the five-year Integrate project, funded by the European Union.

Opeyemi Onupona, 36, almost died of Lassa fever last year. She was rushed to FMCO, one of five Nigerian hospitals equipped to treat the disease. “I was afraid that my husband and two children had also contracted the disease,” Onupona said. “But fortunately for us, her test results were negative.”

FMCO, which receives funding from the NGO Alliance for International Medical Action (Alima), a member of the consortium, has a 40-bed isolation room and a laboratory for rapid diagnosis.

“We have managed over 2,000 cases since 2018 with a case fatality rate of less than 15. Our emergency outbreak center is the first in the state, with laboratory and case management equipment,” Ayodeji said.

Jaspard said the goal is to equip health professionals with the skills and facilities to combat other viral diseases in the future.

“The very long-term goal is to find drugs to combat various viruses such as Ebola and Covid-19. The more solutions we find against viruses, such as diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, the more prepared we will be for the next outbreak.”

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