Lassa fever: what Wellcome is doing to support Nigerian research
Explainer / Published: 1 May 2018
In mid-February, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a scaled-up response to the outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria. Josie Golding explains what Wellcome is doing to help.
Lassa fever is endemic to several West African countries, with Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone all reporting cases recently. The potentially fatal disease can affect many organs, and damage the body's blood vessels.
Since the start of the year there have been over 100 confirmed deaths – the largest outbreak of Lassa fever ever reported in Nigeria. Lassa fever normally has a fatality rate of about 1%, but in the most recent outbreak it is thought to be more than 20% among confirmed and probable cases, according to the country's Centre for Disease Control.
Most people catch Lassa fever from eating, drinking or handling anything contaminated with rat urine, faeces, blood or saliva. It can also pass from person to person through bodily fluids.
What Wellcome is doing
Wellcome is funding several projects to help with the current and future outbreaks in Nigeria, as part of our work on epidemic preparedness and building strong research ecosystems in Africa and Asia.
Wellcome has funded the Centre for Infectious Disease and Research Policy (CIDRAP) to develop R&D roadmaps for Lassa fever, Ebola/Marburg and Nipah.
These roadmaps will:
- provide an overview of the therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines in development for each of the pathogens
- identify research gaps necessary to speed up the development of medical interventions and prioritise the most pressing/urgent gaps.
The baseline mapping for Lassa fever, used by CIDRAP and the WHO, was published in the journal npj Vaccines and has provided timely background knowledge for the latest outbreak.
With the UK Department for International Development, Wellcome is also funding two projects to help with the current and future outbreaks in Nigeria.
- £500,000 to the WHO to support the Nigerian Research Plan and to help the government be better prepared for the next outbreak. This funding is to support projects such as:
- establishing a mechanism to facilitate coordination of research efforts related to Lassa fever
- ensuring that standardised lab tests are available to support response and research efforts
- enhancing oversight capacity for research in Nigeria through the National Regulatory Authority and the Ethical Research Committee.
- £90,000 to the African coalition for Epidemic Research, Response and Training (ALERRT) to set up a clinical research response in Nigeria. The goal is to strengthen case management of Lassa fever patients by supporting Nigerian clinicians in standardised collection of clinical assessment, outcome and laboratory data across multiple health centres.
Wellcome’s global policy team has also been helping the WHO R&D Blueprint team develop tools to map out the partners involved in the outbreak response.
- BBC Analysis Lassa fever: The killer disease with no vaccine by Charlie Weller, head of Wellcome's Vaccines Programme.
- CEPI (the Coalitions for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations) co-founded by Wellcome. It has partnered with Themis Bioscience and Inovio Pharmaceuticals in advanced vaccine development and manufacturing for Lassa fever and MERS.
- Why vaccines is one of Wellcome's priority areas