Nigeria: Making Sense of a Young Doctor’s Death

Ahmed Victor Idowuwas a young medical doctor with a passion to reform health care in Nigeria.  A recent graduate of the University of Nigeria, in January 2018 he was at the start of  his in-hospital clinical training when he examined a seven-month old baby with an abnormally high fever. He was the only doctor on duty. It was his last duty. The baby had Lassa fever.  Less than a month later, Dr. Idowu died of the Ebola-like virus that in its most severe form causes multi-organ failure and uncontrolled bleeding from the nose, mouth, and gut.

His death was one of the first in Nigeria’s latest outbreak of Lassa fever, which now stands at 423 confirmed cases and 106 deaths. It was the worst Lassa Fever outbreak ever reported in Nigeria, with more cases in just two months than the entire previous year, and an exceptionally high fatality rate of 25 percent. Although the Nigerian minister of health recently declared the Lassa fever outbreak over, the virus remains an ever-present danger, as the conditions that breed it have not changed. 

The vast majority of transmission is through rats, millions of which proliferate in parts of West Africa where clean water, toilets and sanitary sewage systems are lacking.  These conditions must change if we are to stop annual outbreaks of this potentially fatal disease.

Lassa Fever is endemic across West Africa. It currently causes up to 500,000 cases and 5,000 deaths yearly across West Africa, yet it has been a neglected disease since it was identified in 1969. Similarly, although the Ebola virus was identified in 1976, not until the widespread 2014 outbreak, when cases began appearing overseas, did the scientific and medical communities mobilize the muscle needed to rapidly develop tools for prevention, diagnosis and treatment—work that is still underway.

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Photo credit VOA News