Nigeria today joined Senegal as the only two countries that have been declared free of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since the current outbreak of the disease in Guinea at the beginning of the year.
Other countries still battling to contain the virus include the worst hit in West Africa – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – as well as the United States of America and Spain. Another strain of the Ebola outbreak has been recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has killed close to 50 persons.
Credit must be given to President Goodluck Jonathan for immediately releasing resources to the states and declaring an Ebola emergency in the country; Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola for the efficient manner in the state’s handling and containment of the disease in the first urban centre in the world, and leading the way for other states to follow suit; former Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, for providing oversight as the chief medical officer of the federation to all state commissioners for health, providing daily updates and leading in the sensitisation campaign; and the doctors, nurses and volunteers who worked tirelessly at a huge risk to their lives to check the spread of the disease.
Through the determination of these individuals and the heroism of First Consultants Medical Centre and its senior consultant, the late Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh, Nigeria was able to limit the spread of the virus to just 19 persons, of which seven were lost to the disease.
Many feared the worst when Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian national, died on July 25 at First Consultants, a private hospital in Lagos, which is home to more than 20 million people, with poor sanitation and inadequate health facilities, reported the AFP.
Doctors were on strike at the time over the conditions in the public health sector, where many state hospitals lack running water, let alone soap and other basic equipment. Yet the doomsday scenario of the rapid spread of the disease among a 170-million-strong population, devastating Africa’s leading economy and oil producer, did not materialise.
“Nigeria acted quickly and early and on a large scale,” John Vertefeuille, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told AFP. “They acted aggressively, especially in terms of contact-tracing.”
Also key to the response was the community approach adopted by Lagos and other states as well as an existing plan for a mass outbreak of polio, which was adapted to Ebola, and a rapid appeal for foreign help. The Ebola Emergency Operations Centre (EEOC) prioritised contact-tracing and twice-daily monitored those at risk, with experts aware that every Ebola case was in contact with about 50 people.
Through the community approach, considerable sensitisation and education was achieved and heightened the level of hygiene-compliance among Nigerians nationwide. In all, nearly 900 people were monitored in Lagos and Port Harcourt, where a contact of Sawyer travelled after evading surveillance, going on to infect another doctor.
Some 1,800 people were trained to trace and monitor those at risk, as well as decontaminate infected places and care for the sick, said the head of the EEOC, Dr. Faisal Shuaib.
But in spite of the successful containment of Ebola in the country, it would be foolhardy for Nigeria to rest on its oars.
The disease continues to ride roughshod in neighbouring West African countries, still placing the country at maximum risk.
This means that the health authorities cannot afford to relax the screening measures put in place at its airports, seaports and land borders. Neither can the authorities afford to be complacent over its health care facilities or stop research for possible treatments of Ebola.
Like Chukwu said recently, as long as there is a single case of Ebola in any country in the world, all others are at risk. Nigeria might have been lucky this time around that she curtailed the spread of the disease, she might not be that fortunate should the virus make its way into the country a second time.