Global warming and Climate change in general are very critical issues that have dominated the global news headlines in recent years. They have been implicated in a number of incidences ranging from natural disasters due to extreme weather events such as flooding and hurricanes to low agricultural output due to droughts and increased incidence and severity of plants and animal diseases.
There is, however an abysmally poor attention focused on its potential and current effects on health of human beings. These effects range from undernutrition and malnutrition in the face of low agricultural output, increased incidences of sanitation and hygiene-related diseases such as Cholera to increased spread of allergens and activity of disease vectors such as mosquitoes that transmit dengue fever and malaria. One other effect is its creation or formation of an optimal environment for bacteria and other microorganisms that cause diseases. Some of such bacteria include Neisseria meningitides, Haemophilus influenzae and Streptococcus pneumoniae. These organisms are responsible for the causation of Cerebrospinal Meningitis.
Meningitis remains a major health concern in the world, especially Africa. Its incidence in Nigeria has shown greater prominence in the heavily-populated northwestern region. As at April last year, meningitis was ascertained to have been responsible for 1966 cases with a 16-percent mortality rate (324 deaths) in 90 local government areas across 17 Nigerian states including Lagos, Osun, Zamfara, Kano, Kebbi, Cross River, Sokoto and Plateau states.
Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the meninges (the protective membrane covering the brain and the spinal cord. It is caused when bacteria (Neisseria meningitides, Haemophilus influenza type b, etc) enter the blood stream from the sinuses, ears and throat and then travels to the brain where they cause inflammation of the meninges. It presents with symptoms such as rashes, stiff neck, headache, high fever and vomiting and mental confusion. Some of the factors that have been suggested to increase the risk of contracting meningitis include overcrowding, alcoholism, compromised immune systems such as due to previous viral infection or splenectomy.
In recent times, there has been an increase in the suggestion that a warm and dry environment increases the occurrence of meningitis. Several studies have established that cases of meningitis exhibit sensitivity to intra and interannual climate variability, with peak incidences occurring during the hot and dry November to May months cycle.
A study carried out in Niger Republic by scientists from University of Liverpool and published in the ‘Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology’ also found out that outbreaks of meningitis occur after sandstorms and extreme high temperature.
These conditions lead to increased invasion of bacteria into upper respiratory tract, immunosuppression and release of damaging bacterial toxins.
With this abundance of wealth of information available, one might begin to wonder why the meningitis attacks always seem to take this country by surprise. Could it be that the general public and officials of the Nigerian government are/were not privy to these information? Au contraire, Nigeria’s awareness of the existence and risk factors of the meningitis scourge and its relationship to global warming is well documented. Studies such as “The impact of Climate Change on Meningitis in Northwest Nigeria: An Assessment Using CMIP5 Climate Model Simulation” by Abdussalam et al indicates a certain level of awareness. In the words of the Honorable Minister for Labour, Dr. Chris N. Ngige, in his address to world leaders at the 106th session of the International Labour Conference in June 2017, said “A manifestation of the adverse climatic condition in my country was the recent outbreak of cerebro-spinal meningitis which resulted in the death of over 1000 people predisposed by the extreme heat waves which assisted an uncontrollable meningitides bacterial multiplication”. Other personalities such as the immediate past president of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Olumide Akintayo, have also lent credence to the awareness of the increased incidence of meningitis during the dry, warm season. Attempts by the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to blame the current epidemic on unawareness of the ‘new’ Type C Meningitis strain has been rebuffed by investigations by the Guardian newspaper of 9th April 2017, as reported in an article titled “Meningitis Outbreak exposes FG’s unpreparedness for epidemics”, revealing that the country had already encountered the ‘new’ strain since 2013.
It would not be remiss to assume that the popular saying “Once bitten, twice shy” does not actually strike a chord with the Nigerian authorities but one wonders how long we can survive with these spates of nonchalance and fire-brigade attitudes towards potential and actual disasters. Impacts of climate change can be managed through mitigation and adaptation processes. Mitigation processes involves the mechanisms applied to reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions. These involve the abstinence from or reduction of fossil fuel exploitation and combustion and the inevitable switch to renewable energy platforms. This is regrettably where my country continues to fall short of standards. Our government, despite the continuous decline in global oil demands and prices, has ridiculously continued to depend heavily on fossil fuel-driven economy to the extent of even exploring new deposits. Agriculture, which bears many positives in a changing climate, continues to be ignored.
Adaptation scenarios for the health impacts of climate change which would benefit Nigeria include the development of early-warning systems, infrastructure and capacity-building of health facilities and workers through organization of climate-informed health programmes, education of the masses on the existence, impacts and adaptation procedures of climate change.
If these and other steps are followed meticulously, we would be able to reduce mortalities during certain epidemics and even prevent them from occurring. Only then will we be able to realize that the proverbial ‘Stitch in Time’ does not just save nine; it saves lives too.