How under-funding led to spike in Lassa fever – Investigation 

Nigeria recorded a surge in the spread of Lassa fever in 2023, with the National Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC), raising alarm about its persistence.

However, despite the severity of the disease and its dangerous trait, findings revealed that underfunding, poor release of funds and lack of preparedness have been the bane of its eradication.

It is a deadly viral hemorrhagic illness that lowers the platelet count in the blood and its ability to clot thereby causing internal bleeding.

This disease is primarily transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with urine or faeces from Mastomys rats. Though to a lesser extent, secondary human-to-human transmission can also occur through direct contact with infected persons’ blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids, especially in health-care settings, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).


WHO notes that despite increased capacity for preventing and controlling Lassa fever, several factors continue to elevate the risk whuch includes a rise in surveillance gaps, inconsistent subnational response capacities, delays in sample shipments for laboratory testing and chronic underfunding.

Also, findings reveal insufficient budgetary allocations from state governments, and the lack of effective advocacy. 

Outbreak in 2023

The endemic disease has continued to endanger lives in Bauchi and 27 other states. In 2023, Nigeria recorded over 1,000 confirmed cases of the disease, with the NCDC raising alarm over the surge in the reported cases.

Data from NCDC shows that 9,155 suspected cases were reported out of which 1,270 cases were confirmed to be Lassa fever cases in 2023.

The cases were reported largely among youths of the 21-30 age group across 28 states and 124 local government areas. 

Of these, 76 per cent of all confirmed cases were reported from three states of Ondo, Edo and Bauchi. 

Specifically, Ondo accounted for 34 per cent of the confirmed cases, having reported 433 confirmed cases out of the 2,665 suspected cases and Edo, which comes second on the list with 27 per cent, 349 confirmed of the 3,482 cases.

Bauchi accounted for 15 per cent of the confirmed cases, having reported 194 confirmed cases out of 1,048.

The remaining 24 per cent of cases were reported from 25 other states, including Taraba and Ebonyi, with confirmed Lassa fever cases.

Comparing the cases recorded to 2022 data, the country, between January, to December, reported a cumulative number of 8,207 suspected cases of Lassa fever with 1,067 confirmed cases, and 189 (17.7 per cent) deaths across 27 states. This shows an increase in the disease in 2023, which according to NCDC, is unprecedented.

Outbreak in 2024

Dspite the alarm raised by NCDC, Nigeria between January to May 5, has reported 6,106 suspected cases, of which 869 were confirmed to be Lassa fever.

By this period in 2023, the suspected cases reported stood at 5,218 and confirmed cases at 929, meaning that there was an increase in the number of reported cases compared to the 2024 data. This shows that Nigeria may as well report another unprecedented figure by the end of the year if the trend continues.

Budget gaps/lack of state ownership

Besides all states failing to meet the Abuja declaration of 15 per cent budgetary allocation for health, most of the states including the most plagued states failed to make ‘significant’ budget provisions for tackling Lassa fever and epidemic preparedness in their 2024 budgets.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged the entire country, states have been charged by the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI), to provide budget lines for epidemic preparedness and response. 

However, only Kano and Lagos states have created a line item to tackle and prepare for epidemics, as of 2023.

Given the spread of the disease across the country, particularly Ondo, Edo and Bauchi, check shows that the three states, which had reported 76 per cent of the total confirmed cases in 2023 earmarked less than N50 million each for the disease, thereby relying completely on foreign donor and federal government intervention.

Although Nigeria has experienced improved funding for health allocations in the past few years, the budget still falls short of the Abuja declaration’s target of allocating at least 15 per cent of the total allocation to the health sector.

In 2024, of the N28.7 trillion’s country budget, only N1.3 trillion, translating to 4.64 per cent was budgeted to the health sector.

The inadequate amount of money earmarked for Nigeria’s health sector has been compounded by the failure to fully utilise the allocated funds and constraints, such as low budget revenue, and restricted fiscal space for additional expenditure.