In June 1996, a severe meningitis outbreak rocked Nigeria, an infection that caused inflammation of the brain and spinal cord linings and spread through sneezing.
As of March 4, 1996, the infection had spread to 12 states in Nigeria in the space of six months, leading to over 100,000 cases and a fatality rate of 10.7% – meaning it caused death in one in every ten patients with the infection. It was the most severe epidemic of the illness ever recorded in Nigeria.
The outbreak, which lasted over three months, saw the combined efforts of a National Task Force set up by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health, the WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Red Cross and several other non-governmental organizations to bring the epidemic under control, but not without scars left behind for some families in Kano State.
In addition to the international task force, the US-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer was in Kano at the time with an antibiotic drug called Trovan, expected to potentially treat meningitis, but not yet approved for that use or for treatment of children by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company administered a drug trial of Trovan and a second drug, Ceftriaxone, then a standard treatment for meningitis, to some 200 children.