The death toll from the measles outbreak in Borno continues to rise with 80 deaths reported by Thisday newspaper as at yesterday. There is still little evidence of an intensified immunization campaign which is critical if control of the outbreak is to be achieved. That the outbreak has occurred should not surprise anyone in the light of a recently published WHO evaluation of immunisation programmes in Africa which included Nigeria as one of the countries in 2004 where immunisation coverage remained at less than 50 per cent. You can read the report here
The refusal of the Permanent Secretary in Borno State to reveal the actual number of people affected is another disturbing note. Promoting greater transparency in public services in Nigeria is important and public officials need to realize that it is not acceptable to withold relevant information from the public. Doing this requires greater oversight from the media and civil society organizations and it is cheering to see an analysis (even if limited) by a journalist outlining challenges in healthcare for the new Yaradua administration and also a letter from a civil society group SERAP to the new Nigerian president calling for universal access to health care to be a priority for the incoming administration
On a more cheering note, UNICEF has recently commended Nigeria on having successfully completed its salt iodization programme, which means that 98 per cent of the population should now have access to iodized salt, a major pillar in the prevention of iodine deficiency.
Another cheering note is the move by anti-tobacco organizations to move the battle for better tobacco control in Nigeria to the courts. This is particularly important as the tobacco companies, having been driven out of the West have moved massively into developing countries like Nigeria. Raising awareness of this issue will be key but also challenging in view of the powerful role of companies like British American Tobacco in the Nigerian economy.