3 Oct 2014

Ebola: Nigeria Beware Of Complacency - by Dr. Paul John

The introduction of Ebola to Nigeria by Patrick Sawyer was a wakeup call to all health care workers in Nigeria. I still thank and strongly recommend that the management and staff of First Consultants Hospital, Lagos be compensated for the patriotic role they played which ensured that the index case was contained – a role for which they paid dearly with the lives of some of their staff.

Now that Nigeria has been ‘allegedly’ declared Ebola-free, do our experts really take into consideration that another ‘Patrick Sawyer’ can easily fly into the country anytime and any day? Do we still have direct or indirect flights to and fro Liberia? How prepared and vigilant are our health officials at our ports of entry? This is because it was when Patrick Sawyer came that the moribund Infectious Disease Units in our ministries of health were revamped. Believe you me, there are officials in that segment of the ministries of health, receiving salaries at the end of the month, threatening government with industrial actions concerning their promotions and other allowances but it was when Ebola came into the country that they dusted their chairs and removed the cobwebs in their offices. Why was it impossible for the laboratory at LUTH (Lagos University Teaching Hospital) to run a confirmatory test on the Patrick Sawyer’s sample sent to it initially and why did we have to wait till a confirmatory test was done outside the country?

It should be noted that the laboratory at LUTH showed that Patrick Sawyer’s sample had an Ebola virus but the strain of the virus (which may be Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan, Reston or Tai forest species) that infected him was confirmed outside the country. It was confirmed that the strain of the virus that infected him was the Zaire species. Although I’m not an expert in Infectious Disease Control and Prevention hence I may be pardoned if the gold standard is that the sample must be confirmed outside Nigeria (possibly in a WHO reference laboratory), all I’m saying is that as a giant of Africa, the 26th largest economy in the world and the much-taunted largest economy in Africa, we were supposed to complete the test here.

Today, many hospitals and public places that installed health measures at the outbreak of the index case of Ebola in Nigeria have since abandoned them since the country has been declared Ebola-free. I think the current index case of Ebola Virus Disease that was diagnosed recently in Dallas, Texas United States of America, should tell us that we can be hit again by this deadly virus. If the US can be hit by the deadly virus despite all sensitisation and their preparedness, how much more a developing country like ours, where some officials manning our ports of entry can be easily bribed to neglect their duties? The current index case in America was said to have travelled from Liberia to America. In view of this, another ‘Patrick Sawyer’ may surreptitiously come into our own country and this time, it will be more disastrous than the first.

We should not relax yet as the battle is not over. Just like any other diseases (for example Cholera, Influenza etc.) that come as an epidemic, Ebola can pay us an unscheduled visit anytime and it’s likely to have easy entry through our ports. When I saw the volume of arms and ammunition plus heavy military equipment recovered from Boko Haram insurgents, I asked how these fighting instruments got into the hands of the insurgents in the first place even when it is extremely difficult to smuggle a car into the country from Benin Republic. It then follows that there must be either a mole in the regulatory agency or the officials were negligent.

Health workers manning our ports of entry must be patriotic since any further incident of Ebola virus disease in Nigeria now will have multiplier effects as we are currently complacent having been declared Ebola free.

Paul John is a Medical Practitioner based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

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