LAGOS--The United States of America, yesterday, dashed the hope of an early cure for Ebola Virus victims in Nigeria when it refused to share the trial drug with Nigeria. US President Barak Obama says it would be premature to share the experimental drug with Africa.
The Federal Government had earlier reached out to the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, in Atlanta, to request for the drug for treatment of EVD affected persons in Nigeria, but President Obama turned down the request, saying it would be far more beneficial to focus on prevention instead.
Nigeria recorded its first Ebola Virus disease fatality on Tuesday when one of the nurses who was one of the primary contacts of the American-Liberian, Patrick Sawyer, passed on. The doctor who treated Sawyer, who died in the country after flying into Lagos, is now ill with Ebola and six other primary contacts are currently ill with the disease in a Lagos hospital where they are quarantined.
Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu and Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku had disclosed on Wednesday after the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja that the Federal Government was awaiting the response of the request it made to the CDC on Tuesday.
Addressing the 50 African leaders at the US-African Summit in Washington, President Obama stated that it is "premature" to send an experimental medicine for the treatment of Ebola to West Africa, as he lacked enough information to approve the drug that was already being used on two American aid workers whose conditions were said to have improved by varying degrees.
"We've got to let the science guide us and I don't think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful. The Ebola virus, both currently and in the past, is controllable if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place.
"The countries affected are the first to admit that what's happened here is the public health systems have been overwhelmed. They weren't able to identify and then isolate cases quickly enough.
"As a consequence, it spread more rapidly than has been typical with the periodic Ebola outbreaks that occurred previously," he remarked.
As a palliative, President Obama announced plans by the US to spend $110 million annually, for three to five years, totall ing $330-$550 million, to help African nations develop rapid reaction peacekeeping forces.
The Ebola virus causes viral hemorrhagic fever, which refers to a group of viruses that affect multiple organ systems in the body and are often accompanied by bleeding.
The experimental medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody, meaning that mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus and then the antibodies generated within the mice's blood were harvested to create the medicine. It works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.
Developed by a San Diego Company, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the experimental serum had never been tried before on human beings but had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys. Company documents show that four monkeys infected with Ebola survived after being given the therapy within 24 hours after infection.
In the monkeys, the experimental serum had been given within 48 hours of infection. Two of four other monkeys that started therapy within 48 hours after infection also survived. One monkey that was not treated died within five days of exposure to the virus.
WHO debates emergency
Meanwhile, on the second day of its emergency meeting on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the World Health Organisation, WHO, says it would convene a panel of medical ethicists to discuss if the drug should be used on others and who should receive it.
The UN Agency will decide whether to declare it an international crisis at the end of the closed-door session after it finds out whether the outbreak constitutes what is known in WHO-speak as a "public health emergency of international concern".
To date, the WHO has not issued global-level recommendations -- such as travel and trade restrictions -- related to the outbreak which began in Guinea and has spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
Spain records Ebola case
The CDC raised its alert to the highest level and has also increased its efforts to contain the massive outbreak before it can be officially labelled as a global health threat. This is the situation as Miguel Pajares became the first Ebola patient to arrive in Europe yesterday after the Spanish government flew the 75-year-old Roman Catholic priest to an undisclosed hospital in Madrid for treatment. The missionary worker was working in Liberia treating Ebola patients when he contracted the virus.
In response to the longest and most deadly Ebola outbreak in world history, the CDC raised its alert level to Level 1. The Level 1 alert is saved for the most serious public health emergencies and allows the agency to relocate hundreds of employees working on different projects to refocus their efforts on Ebola containment.
ECOWAS suspends meetings
Also, the ECOWAS Commission has announced suspension of all its meetings to facilitate tackling of the Ebola outbreak in the sub region.
ECOWAS Vice President, Dr Toga Mcintosh who made the announcement at a press briefing for members of the diplomatic corps on Nigeria's national response to the Ebola Virus disease outbreak, stated that it was with immediate effect.
"On our own, we have undertaken that ECOWAS suspends all meetings that can bring us together, so all meetings will be suspended for now."
He stated that a task force has been established to monitor all information which is working along with member states in order to share information.
"We are going to fumigate the entire places were the late Patrick Sawyer stayed before his death; even the vehicle. This, I must say, is a community challenge. It is not a one-country challenge; it is a global challenge," he added.
Addressing the Diplomatic Corps, Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu said 70 borders are carrying out screenings at all the entry points in the country as he also stated that Nigeria has not closed her borders but still looking at all possibilities.
He noted that Nigeria will not hesitate to do so if there is any superior argument.
"Alert has been signed to all the 36 states of the federation and the local governments on how measures can be taken. The world is in danger, we have an emergency at hand globally, every nation is at risk and every individual is at risk."
Chukwu also stated that the Federal Government has banned Nigerians from bringing corpses of their loved ones back to Nigeria from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia; only if there is a waiver and that must follow due process. He said provisions for life insurance to protect health workers in case of any loss of life will be granted.
We foresaw Ebola in Nigeria - Vet Council
Reacting to the situation in the country, the Veterinary Council of Nigeria, VCN, said it foresaw the outbreak of Ebola disease in the country, given unrestricted contact between humans and wild animals.
In an interview, the Registrar, VCN, Dr. Markus Avong, told Vanguard in Abuja that veterinarians in the country had expressed concern over the crave for bush meat by most Nigerians and eating of dead animals found in the bush.
"The major source of introduction of the Ebola virus into Nigeria was not through the animal population, rather it was introduced into Nigeria by a Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer. That shows the virus security measures put in place by the Federal Ministry of Health are adequate enough to stop the further spread of the virus from person to person.
"Notwithstanding, in a typical outbreak of Ebola virus, it is usually through wild animals like chimpanzees, fruit bats, monkeys and others that have the source of infection in humans.
"Veterinarians in this country have been interacting on how to handle the possible outbreak of the Ebola virus, because it is a disease that is transferred from animals in the wild to humans. We have been on the issue since and sensitizing ourselves and Nigerians on how to handle animals.
Avong said efforts had been on to sensitize people on eating bush meat and handling dead animals, which some people eat also.
"The advocacy has been on before now. We are urging Nigerians to desist from eating bush meat for now. My advice to Nigerians is that they should keep strictly and religiously to measures of personal hygiene coming from the medics and veterinarians."
Avong also maintained that Nigerians should keep to the measures given by observing strict hygiene principles, but urged more proactive steps in handling wild animals identified as carriers of the virus.
"While measures given by the Federal Ministry of Health are observed, other proactive measures should be taken in stopping the further spread of the virus from the animal population.
"Nigerians should not take things for granted because countries where outbreak of Ebola virus occurred are not far from Nigeria, and animals like fruit bats could traverse between Nigeria and those countries, and that is why fruits like mangoes, oranges and others are washed properly before eating.
"After coming in contact with animals people should properly wash their hands, and avoid their droppings and urine to come in contact with food they eat. Nigerians should avoid bush meat, and anyone who finds dead animals in the wild should not handle them but should report to the veterinarian nearest for proper disposal of the carcass."
Avong also stated that movement of nomads could pose danger in spreading the dreaded Ebola virus, and called for caution, as they were possible carriers of animal-to-man diseases.
He further explained that nomads across the borders could move into the country with the virus via their cattle, which could have come in contact with wild animals that carry the virus.
Ghana denies banning Nigerian flights
Also, the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority yesterday officially denied banning flights from Nigeria as a result of the recent cases of Ebola infections and death recorded in Nigeria.
A statement from the Ghana Aviation Authority said "The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority's attention has been drawn to an online publication on the above subject on Saturday, 2nd August, 2014 and we wish to state emphatically that the publication is erroneous and misleading."
The statement further noted: "The GCAA as the sole Regulator of the Air Transport industry and Provider of Air Navigation Service in the country has not banned any airline from Nigeria and other African country from operating to Ghana because of suspicion that the flights might be carrying passengers with the Ebola virus.
"We can confirm that flight operations to and from Nigeria and other African countries are normal without any interruption. The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority wishes to assure passengers and the general public that it is working with all stakeholders to ensure that the Kotoka International Airport and all other airports in the country remain safe and secure. "
It will be recalled that last week, workers of the aviation agencies operating at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja were sensitized by Port Health officials on the dangers posed by the Ebola virus and how to prevent the spread of the virus in the work place, home and the community.
According to Yakubu Dati , Coordinating General Manager, Communication, Aviation Parastatals, "The awareness campaign was carried out to complement other measures already put in place by Port Health at the country's international airports to prevent the presence and spread of the Ebola virus in Nigeria."
Speaking on the sensitization in Abuja, the Director, Port Services of the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Sani Gwarzo charged aviation stakeholders to be abreast of dangers posed by the Ebola virus and how to prevent the spread of the virus in the airport.
"At MMA for example, Port Health personnel have been deployed to the two arrival halls for the purpose of testing arriving passengers for signs and symptoms of the deadly virus. Arriving passengers are to be processed first by Port Health personnel who are expected to carry out necessary tests on every passenger with special devices that do not permit physical contact. Those found to be free of any signs or symptoms would proceed to the Immigration area for other formalities."
"A holding area has been provided at the tarmac for suspected cases while index cases are expected to be isolated in a designated area outside the airport for further examination and treatment."