Lassa fever: what Wellcome is doing to support Nigerian research

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:

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.

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.

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