Written by Ijeoma UKAZU

NIMR brainstorms on Zika virus, eyes policy direction for FG

Following the pronouncement of Zika virus as a global emergency by the World Health Organisation, WHO, the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, has said that the institute is targeted at producing informed policy for the government in combating any disease outbreak.

Speaking to journalists in Lagos during a special presentation on Zika virus, Director General of NIMR, Prof. Innocent Ujah, said that the institute has its mandate to respond to national health priorities, stating that “we have involved both scientists and non-scientists to discuss the Zika virus and plan informed policy for the government."

He said the virus is gotten from a particular type of mosquitoes, stressing the need for Nigerians to maintain healthy environment, personal hygiene and sleep on insecticide treated nets.

Ujah added that though a serological study carried out on Nigeria showed that 40 percent of the urban population had neutralising antibodies to Zika virus, he however said that, "even if one person dies of the virus, it is significant to the country. It is not about statistics but human beings. Our environment must be clean to reduce possible transmission that probably would occur.”

A chief researcher, consultant and obstetrician gynaecologist at NIMR, Dr. Gregory Ohihion, in his presentation on 'Clinical Manifestation on Zika Virus Infection,’ said that the disease was restricted to Africa and Asia until 2007, stating that the virus is currently in South America.

He further said, "Right now due to the pandemic in South America and Brazil. The pregnant women who are known to have the Zika virus are now giving birth to babies with small heads which is known as microcephaly and defined as a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age.

“The link between pregnant women and microcephaly is not yet established scientifically and not all mothers with Zika virus gave birth to babies with microcephaly since the cause can also be linked to genetics, chromosomal abnormality.

“What is known by scientists is the transmission of Zika virus through the placenta of the mother to the child and also vertical transmission through delivery.

"Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains and since the head of such babies do not grow, they have the tendency of developing neuro disorders or cerebral palsy. Their intellect will be affected. The baby will not crawl or walk at the right time and that is the greatest worry of Zika virus affecting pregnant women."

He said the virus which has no drug or vaccine has forced many countries introducing travel ban for pregnant women, adding that the incubation period of the virus is between 3 to 12 days with modes of transmission including; mosquito bite from an infected person to an uninfected person, maternal fetal, blood transfusion and sexual intercourse.

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