The announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of a confirmed case of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, which means a resurgence of the deadly Ebola virus, has put health authorities in Nigeria on tenterhook. The level of trepidation is to be understood from the point of view of the peripatetic disposition of the average Nigerian as well as the “open sky” policy that holds in the country where other Africans, regarded as brothers and sisters, are welcome with limited hassles.
This can be confirmed, also, by the fact that the Index Case of the disease in Nigeria was a Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer, who flew into Lagos on July 20, 2014. The country’s response, after that first case was confirmed was urgent, dramatic, appropriate and effective even as it cost the nation one of her brightest doctors, Ameyo Adadevoh. We appreciate the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole’s call on health care providers and the general public to be vigilant and intensify awareness on the symptoms of haemorrhagic fevers.
The federal government, in response to the WHO announcement, has directed health officials at the ports to step up inspection activities and to report any sick person or suspects. Such sick persons are to be referred to the chief epidemiologist in the state for relevant tests. The need for appropriate precautionary measures is to forestall a situation where a government official will come out in public, in this day and age, to announce so brazenly that the disease, like Cerebro- Spinal Meningitis (CSM), is a punishment from God for our sins. The Divine must be left out in this whole issue that demands alertness, round-the-clock preparation, monitoring, assessment and evaluation of all health facilities including updating the personnel on the latest information on the virus as well as equipping them to cope with the anticipated challenges.
One of the most urgent steps that should be taken is a vibrant revitalisation of the public enlightenment campaign that was so useful in alerting the public of the deadly nature of the disease the other time. But this must be done in such a professional manner that Nigerians will not be whip-lashed into a frenzy of panic. The social mobilisation and media awareness efforts via television, radio, print and social media must be couched in languages that will be comprehensible enough to the public for desired impact to be achieved. Of significance is the desirability of letting Nigerians, young and old know that a high level of personal hygiene including regular hand washing can make the difference between life and death as far as Ebola is concerned.
It is imperative to emphasise, in our opinion, that what is required is a sustained strengthening of capacities to detect, manage and respond to hemorrhagic fevers including Lassa fever. The symptoms to look out for include; fever, fatigue, weakness, dizziness and muscle aches. Also, patients with more severe cases that show bleeding under the skin, internal organs or even from bodily orifices like mouth, ears, and the ears should be reported to the health authorities in a timely manner.
We are, however, enamoured by the Minister’s directive that all Nigerian health workers should maintain a high index of suspicion by screening all fevers for Ebola just as he charged state health ministries to strengthen their supervision services and escalate any incident appropriately.
Ebola though considered by relevant health authorities as a major public health issue in sub-Saharan Africa, it took time for it to manifest in West Africa and the early cases were diagnosed as other diseases more common to the area. Thus, the disease had several months to spread before it was recognised as Ebola. The management and containment of the disease when it was reported in Nigeria brought the best the country was capable of. Through its innovative contact tracing, the Nigerian health authorities were able to halt the rampaging virus. The international health authorities acknowledged the nation’s ingenuity in this regard which enabled her to be the first country to effectively contain and eliminate the Ebola threat that was ravaging three other countries in the West African region. The Nigerian unique method of contact tracing became an effective method later used by other countries including the United States of America, when Ebola threats were discovered. What Nigerians proved at that time was that when challenged by any situation, they can and do rise to the occasion. We can still do it again if the powers that be extricate themselves from the blame game with God on mundane human issues.