16 October 2023 | Abuja - NCDC and partners launch Research project toward improving Mpox Public Health Response
Mpox virus, formerly known as Monkeypox, causes the most important global human orthopoxvirus disease since smallpox was eradicated in 1979. Since the virus re-emerged in Nigeria in 2017, reported cases have continued to increase annually. From 2017 till date, there has been 2668 suspected cases, 975 confirmed cases and 14 deaths with Lagos and Rivers States accounting for the highest burden of the disease.
The 2022 global outbreak which affected over 100 countries, coincided with the country’s largest outbreak with 762 confirmed from more than 2000 suspected cases. Though the increase is likely attributed to improved surveillance (reporting and testing capacities), there are important gaps in clinical and epidemiological knowledge of mpox in the Nigeria that are not limited to the hypothesised loss of protection from historical smallpox vaccination, lack of clarity about the actual animal reservoir, and emerging genomics data suggesting transmission may now be entirely human to human. These knowledge gaps in part have hampered the development and deployment of effective control measures.
Before the 2022 global Mpox outbreak, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC), the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital (NDUTH), the Pandemic Sciences Institute at the University of Oxford, the United Kingdom Public Health Rapid Support Team (UK-PHRST - an innovative partnership between the UK Health Security Agency and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, funded with UK aid by the UK Department of Health and Social Care), and stakeholders in Lagos and Rivers States agreed to collaborate on a multi-disciplinary research project aimed at addressing Mpox knowledge gaps that would improve the public health response to the virus in Nigeria and beyond.
Today, 16th October 2023, marks a significant milestone in our mission to improve our understanding and provide evidence to strengthen mpox outbreak prevention, response and control in Nigeria and similar endemic settings of the mpox virus through the research project titled “Epidemiological and clinical investigation of mpox in Nigeria: A multi-disciplinary research project to inform case management and outbreak prevention and control.”
The research project will be completed over two (2) years and will cover the following thematic areas.
● The clinical characteristics and natural history of mpox disease,
● The essential epidemiological parameters and factors associated with infection and transmission.
● The experience of people infected with mpox and those close to them.
There will be two work packages -
● The Clinical Study: This will help address knowledge gaps in the clinical understanding of the virus and the natural history of infection.
● The One Health Study: This will help to increase understanding of the dynamics of infection and transmission in the Nigerian context.
The research project launch attendees include the Honourable Coordinating Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate and representatives from all collaborating stakeholders and partners from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC).
Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, Director General of the NCDC said, "Today, we begin the journey of knowledge, unity, and determination. In partnership with dedicated researchers and institutions, we set out to unravel the unknowns of the mpox virus through bridging clinical and One Health studies. This project symbolises our unwavering commitment to protecting the health of Nigerians, and in turn the world, embracing the power of research, and the strength of collaboration. As we work together, may we move closer to a world free from the threat of mpox that ensures the wellbeing of generations to come."
Dr Chinwe Lucia Ochu, co-project lead from the NCDC said, "the mpox outbreak in Nigeria continues to have a profound impact on lives, particularly among key populations, emphasizing the vulnerability of marginalized communities. The NCDC played a pivotal role in mitigating this crisis. This collaboration underscores the critical importance of surveillance and understanding transmission within the One Health space, where collaboration across human, animal, and environmental health is imperative to protect our global well-being."
Prof. Gwenda Hughes, co-project lead, Deputy Director for Research from the UK-Public Health Rapid Support Team (UK-PHRST), and Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said, “the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team (UK-PHRST) is delighted to be part of this exciting collaboration between NCDC and other partners to better understand the clinical characteristics, pattern of infection and spread of mpox in Nigeria – a disease that has greatly affected Nigerian communities, especially in recent years. The UK-PHRST will support Nigerian colleagues to answer important scientific questions through this extensive research programme and will also help deliver training of local laboratory staff and field teams. Our microbiology specialists have already provided lab equipment and shared expertise to help build local diagnostic capabilities for mpox. Through co-creation and by taking a partner-led approach with our Nigerian colleagues, our aim is to support improved case, contact management, and inform the development of effective control measures for mpox both in Nigeria and globally.”
Dr Jake Dunning, co-project lead of the clinical characterisation study and senior research fellow at the Pandemic Sciences Institute within the University of Oxford, said, “Understanding the features of an emerging infectious disease and how it spreads within a population is essential to controlling it and to optimising the care of patients with the infection. For Nigerian mpox outbreaks, Nigerian scientists have done much in this area over the past six years. This research collaboration will not only inform mpox prevention and response efforts in Nigeria but will be of benefit to global health too, as mpox is not one country’s problem and we are likely to be more successful when we work together. This extends to academic partnerships and opportunities, and I’m pleased that I will be co-supervising a DPhil (PhD) student who, once appointed, will work on these exciting and important mpox studies in Nigeria.”
This research launch further highlights the NCDC's commitment to achieving one of its core functions which is to conduct, collate, synthesise, and disseminate public health research to inform policy. Findings from this research project will play a key role in strengthening detection, prevention, response, and control in Nigeria, and inform practice across the world.
Notes to editors
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) is the country’s national public health institute, with the mandate to lead the preparedness, detection, and response to public health emergencies. The Bill for an Act to establish NCDC was signed into law in November 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari. The mission of the NCDC is to protect the health of Nigerians through evidence-based prevention, integrated disease surveillance and response, using a One Health approach, guided by research, and led by a skilled workforce.
About the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team
The UK-Public Health Rapid Support Team is a key international partner in epidemic disease response. We partner with low- and middle-income countries to respond to infectious disease outbreaks before they develop into global health emergencies. We work closely with international organisations, partner country governments and non-governmental organisations to:
● Rapidly investigate and respond to disease outbreaks at their source in LMICs eligible for UK Official Development Assistance, with the aim of stopping a public health threat from becoming a broader health emergency.
● Conduct research to generate an evidence base for best practices in epidemic preparedness and response.
● Strengthen capacity for improved national response to disease outbreaks in LMICs.
We are an innovative partnership between the UK Health Security Agency and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, funded with UK aid by the UK Department of Health and Social Care. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Department of Health and Social Care.
This collaborative research project is fully funded as part of the UK-PHRST’s allocated research budget, funding for which is provided by the UK Department of Health and Social Care through UK Aid.
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Dr Ifedayo Adetifa
Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.