Dr Benedict Azuogu, Principal Investigator at the ongoing workshop to discuss the progress of research known as “the Enable Lassa Research Programme”, said that Nigeria has concluded the 18th-month infection cohort follow-up.
Azuogu said this on Sunday in Abuja at a workshop, hosted by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), for scientists from across the West Africa sub-region.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the three-day workshop brought together experts from Nigeria, Benin, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – all countries affected by Lassa fever – to share progress, challenges and insights from their work.
The workshop was set up and funded by CEPI to provide a more detailed description of the epidemiology of Lassa fever in West Africa.
The principal investigator, while speaking on the Nigerian component of the study, said that the country has also successfully had over 90 per cent retention rate so far.
Dr N’Faly Magassouba, Programme Steering Committee (PSC) Chair of the Enable Lassa Research Programme and Principal Investigator of the Enable site, Guinea, said:” The Enable Lassa Research Programme has brought together north-to-south and south-to-south research collaborations under a single umbrella.
Magassouba said participants will work collectively to provide valuable insights to support Lassa fever research and vaccine development in West Africa.
“These collaborations will also lead to strengthened existing clinical research and public health capacities at each study site,” he said.
Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, Director General, NCDC, said: “Lassa fever is one of the recurrent and concurrent disease outbreaks Nigeria is contending with.
“Lassa Fever is responsible for significant morbidity and mortality and has a significant impact on healthcare delivery in affected regions, given the deaths caused to healthcare workers.”
Adetifa said that the country has made progress over the years in the management of Lassa fever; however, many gaps still exist like limited options for therapeutics and vaccines, and the absence of evidence-informed interventions for vector control.
“We are happy with our mutually-beneficial collaboration with CEPI, especially through the Enable programme and look forward as a nation to the availability of effective vaccines and therapeutics against Lassa fever,” he said.
Dr Gabrielle Breugelmans, Director of Epidemiology at CEPI, said: “The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has again reiterated the power of scientific collaboration.”
Breugelmans said that the connections and learnings made by researchers at this important meeting would help Enable to progress its work and provide valuable insights into the extent of the Lassa fever disease burden across West Africa which, in turn, can guide future vaccine trials.
“The workshop builds on discussions held at the first-ever global Lassa fever conference, co-hosted by the NCDC and CEPI in January 2019, which emphasised the need for additional research on Lassa’s disease burden,” she said.
NAN recalls that the disease is endemic in parts of West Africa, but recent modelling data suggests that climate change could cause Lassa fever to spread to other regions across the African continent.
Current knowledge about the annual burden of clinical Lassa fever is hindered by a lack of formal and standard clinical diagnoses for the illness and variability in symptoms.
To address this knowledge gap, Enable partners are carrying out assessments, including follow-up of study participants by in-person visits by health workers or via phone calls, to obtain a more accurate estimate of the population-level incidence of Lassa fever.
NCDC is leading on the Nigerian component of Enable alongside other key partners. All Enable partners are using a core protocol and method to allow for standardised assessments and comparable datasets across the countries.
Supported by up to US$29 million of CEPI funding, a total of around 23,000 participants across the five countries participating in Enable are being followed up for two years to better understand the incidence and associated predictors of the disease – including gender and age – as well as the spread of the virus across the region.
There are currently no licensed vaccines to protect against Lassa fever, although some vaccines are currently developing theirs.
Data collected from the Enable programme will help to inform how and where future Lassa vaccine clinical trials can be carried out.
CEPI has to date supported the development of six Lassa vaccines, with four candidate vaccines having progressed to Phase I clinical trials – some of the first in the world – in Liberia, Ghana, the US, and Belgium.
CEPI’s ultimate goal, as part of its plan to reduce epidemic and pandemic threats, is to support the development of a licensed Lassa vaccine for routine use in affected areas.
In addition to reviewing the progress of the study so far, the workshop will bring the Enable partners together to network and identify research and technical priorities to focus on going forward.