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By Chris Ajaero
In the past few weeks, Nigerians have been gripped with fear over the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) which seems to have taken everyone, including the authorities by surprise. Indeed, since Nigeria recorded the first case of Ebola disease when Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American reported sick on July 20 and died on July 25, 2014 at First Consultants Medical Centre, Lagos, there has been growing concern about the epidemic.
Sawyer was said to have contacted the disease in Liberia and had come to Nigeria for a conference in Calabar, Cross River State. However, on arrival at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, he was visibly sick. He was immediately transferred to the First Consultants Hospital where he died five days later. A few days after the demise of Sawyer, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, Minister of Health confirmed that a female doctor and a nurse who treated the deceased at the hospital have been infected with Ebola Virus Disease. He added that seven other persons who had contact with Sawyer had been quarantined in a ward in Lagos while another 70 persons were also under surveillance.
The panic over the spread of the virus was worsened on Wednesday, August 6, when Professor Chukwu and Dr. Jide Idris, Lagos State Commissioner for Health announced that a female nurse whom they had earlier reported to have had contact with Sawyer had died of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease on August 5. The Minister of Health who addressed a press conference said that with the death of the nurse, Ebola had so far claimed its first Nigerian victim. He explained that Nigeria had now recorded seven confirmed cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), as the first one was the index case – the imported case from Liberia of which the victim is now late. He said: “On the 5th of August, 2014, the first known Nigerian to die of the EVD was recorded and this was one of the nurses that attended to the Liberian. The other five cases are currently being treated at the Isolation ward in Lagos. It is pertinent to note that all the Nigerians diagnosed of the EVD were primary contacts of the index case. The 24/7 Emergency Operations Centre which I intimated you of in my last press conference will be fully functional.”
According to him, the centre will be headed by Dr. Faisal Shuaibu as the Incident Manager. He is leading a six-man inter-agency team drawn from National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the WHO, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Lagos to run the Centre. The minister said that they will be joined by the other personnel from the Lagos State government and the federal hospitals in the Lagos area as well as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to check the spread of the disease. “I once again reassure Nigerians that the government is working hard to ensure the containment of the outbreak,” he said.
On his part, Dr. Idris said that about 30 members of the state chapter of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) have volunteered to help in the rescue operations against EVD, ongoing at the state’s Mainland Infectious Diseases Hospital, Yaba. He noted that government was taking measures to contain the spread of the dreaded virus through contact tracing, case management and decontamination. He, however, urged members of the public to be vigilant and careful in relating with people who are facing health challenges. He said the dreaded virus could only be transmitted through direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person, adding that until an infected person “becomes seriously sick with the virus, the carrier is not infectious”.
“We need to again highlight the mode of transmission of the virus. Once a person is infected, the virus is transmissible through direct contact with broken skin, mucous membrane and secretions of an infected person or through direct contact with materials and surfaces that have been contaminated by the infected person. This is a call for vigilance as human-to-human transmission is only achieved by physical contact with a person who is acutely and gravely ill from the Ebola virus through body fluids such as urine, stool, saliva, breast milk and semen,” he said.
He, however, advised Nigerians not to “panic as long as basic precautionary measures such as hand washing, adoption of appropriate waste management and enhanced personal/environmental hygiene are adhered to.” The commissioner added that in Africa, infection had also occurred through the handling of infected chimpanzees, monkeys, guerillas, fruit bats, antelopes and porcupines, noting that there had been no case of transmission by domestic animals such as pigs.
There is no denying the fact that Ebola could wreak monumental havoc if nothing is done to immediately prevent its spread. Definitely, the disease has become something of global concern, as both the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are elevating it to the level of a pandemic, equivalent to that ascribed to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Indeed, the international community is coming to terms with the dangers posed by the virus because two Americans – Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who were treating victims of the disease in Liberia suddenly contracted it.
Worried by the danger the disease poses to the human race, the World Bank Group has pledged a $200-million emergency funding to help contain the spread of Ebola infections in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone and help their communities cope with the economic impact of the crisis as well as improve public health systems across the West African sub-region.
World Bank Group President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, an experienced medical doctor in the treatment of infectious diseases, said the new financing commitment was in response to the call from both the three African countries hardest-hit by Ebola and WHO for immediate assistance to contain the outbreak. He said: “I am very worried that many more lives are at risk unless we can stop this Ebola epidemic in its tracks. I have been monitoring its deadly impact around the clock and I’m deeply saddened at how it has ravaged health workers, families and communities, disrupted normal life, and has led to a breakdown of already weak health systems in the three countries.”
Since breaking out earlier this year, the tropical virus has claimed about 932 lives and infected more than 1,603 people across West Africa. Although there is no known cure for the disease yet, National Institute of Health immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci said recently that his research team was working on a vaccine to prevent Ebola, which is completely effective in monkeys, and will be tested in humans in September.