NCDC Holds Emergency Meeting as Mysterious Disease Spread in Sokoto, Zamfara

Dr. Jide Idris, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC), convened an urgent session with Health Commissioners from Sokoto, Kaduna, and Zamfara states. The aim was to investigate and contain the mysterious illness affecting Sokoto and Zamfara.

A press statement signed by Idris obtained from the NCDC’s website on Thursday noted that the meeting was held at the NCDC’s Headquarters in Abuja.

“The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Jide Idris, hosted an emergency meeting with two Honourable Commissioners for Health from Sokoto and Kaduna states on April 16, 2024, at NCDC’s Headquarters Abuja and also spoke on the telephone with Zamfara’s State Commissioner for Health to unravel the cause as well as contain and mitigate the impact of the ongoing incidents of unknown origin in both Sokoto and Zamfara states.

“The Honourable Commissioners – Asabe Balarabe, Dr Aisha Anka, and Umma Ahmed, discussed the current situation, provided updates on response efforts, and agreed with the DG of NCDC on further measures to contain and mitigate the impact of the illness suspected to be heavy metal poisoning possibly linked to mining activities,” it stated.

The NCDC boss had, on April 9, said the agency was investigating and responding to the strange illness identified in six wards in Sokoto State.

Idris said the agency deployed a National Rapid Response Team to work with the Sokoto State Ministry of Health to respond to the incidents.

The NCDC boss equally noted that the initial clinical assessment and investigations of the cases admitted at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital in Sokoto State, ruled out an infectious origin of the event, necessitating the need to search for other causes.

He said that the results of the initial test for heavy metals for the index and the first few suspected cases revealed different blood levels of lead and chromium, adding that these metals, along with mercury; are emitted mainly into the air as a result of various industrial activities, including mining.

“This also contributes to the deposition and build-up in soils. Heavy metals can also contaminate water sources and get into plants if they persist in the soil. Exposure to heavy metals either through the air (dust), soil, plants, or water is associated with kidney, brain, liver, and bone damage including cancers of the body depending on the type of heavy metals.

“Persons most at risk or vulnerable include pregnant women (unborn babies), infants and children, illegal/artisanal miners, industrial workers, etc. Some of the effects of heavy metals are immediate while many will take a long time to manifest,” it said.

So far, a total of 196 suspected cases of the unknown illness with seven deaths have been reported across Isa, Sabon Birni, and Ilella Local Government Areas of Sokoto State.

The agency urged healthcare workers and affected communities to report any symptoms including fever, abdominal swelling and pain, vomiting, and weight loss to the nearest health facility or call the NCDC toll-free line on 6232.

The statement noted that the agency is committed to working closely with the affected states to contain the incidents effectively and would continue to provide updates to the public as new information becomes available.

It, however, urged policymakers to ensure that mining activities in their states are regulated with standards enforced and artisanal mining is discouraged.