Leadership (Abuja)

17 August 2014

Nigeria: First Ebola Patient Discharged From Hospital - Minister

Photo: Tommy Trenchard/IRIN
Doctors working.

Minister of health Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu yesterday in a press briefing announced that the first person confirmed to have Ebola virus disease (EVD) - the female doctor who attended to Patrick Sawyer - has been declared free from the deadly disease and has been discharged from the isolation ward after following and meeting all protocol.

The minister also confirmed that the present statistics of confirmed cases of EVD in Nigeria has risen to 12, the number of deaths due to EVD is four including the index case, two health workers and the protocol officer working with ECOWAS.

The minister noted that the number of persons under surveillance in Lagos is now 189 and the number of persons under surveillance in Enugu is 6. Chukwu added that "the patients under treatment have now been moved to the new 40-bed capacity isolation ward provided by the Lagos State government and at present five of the confirmed cases of EVD have almost fully recovered".

He stated: "It would be recalled that, last Thursday, it was announced that the federal government was ready to deploy an experimental drug named Nano Silver, if it was cleared by the National Health Research Committee. Although the drug has since last Thursday been made available to the Emergency Operations Centre in Lagos, it had not been administered to any patient because we were awaiting clearance by the National Research Ethics Committee."

The minister further stated: "However, it is with great regret that I inform you that the drug did not meet the requirements of the National Health Research Ethic Code. Accordingly, approval of its use has been withheld by the National Health Research Ethics Committee."

Nevertheless, Chukwu noted that all hope was not lost as other candidate drugs are currently being evaluated by the Treatment Research Group for EVD.

"As soon as any of the experimental drugs is cleared by the National Health Research Ethics Committee and is made available, we shall include it in the treatment regimen subject to the informed consent of the patient," he said.

Meeting with concerned family and friends

In a bid to debunk allegations of inadequate care of EVD patients from the government and health workers, the minister of health told newsmen that he had been in talks with family members and friends of the victims of EVD.

Said the minister: "The federal government has heard their complaints and I can assure you we are doing everything necessary so that their complaints would be met. It is only natural for them (family and friends) to be anxious and agitated. No one prays to lose a loved one. Now that Lagos State has provided a better isolation unit, it would be more conducive, and care and services would be better.

"The health workers that have come out to volunteer in this crisis are to be commended for their effort. Words cannot emphasise how much effort and energy they have put in the quick recovery of patients as well as monitoring any leads of Ebola crisis. They are really working hard."

On the sack of resident doctors

Chukwu confirmed that the suspension is only temporary and that the government is considering how they can better improve the health care sector:

"I believe the suspension is only temporary; the government is looking at how the health care system can be improved. But please note that the suspension is for only federal-owned hospitals; it is not extended to other state hospitals."

On the issue of insurance policy

There have been allegations by doctors that the health insurance scheme the federal government is offering is yet to come to realisation and that the government has not made good its promise by putting pen to paper. No volunteer health worker has been issued any health insurance policy from the federal government.

In his response, the minister testified to this claim that the federal government has indeed not started the offer of insurance policy but the Lagos State government has started issuing theirs.

"We are still working on the paper works; when it's ready we would definitely give it out. But we still need more volunteers as health workers are few and they can't handle the job alone," he said.

The minister also debunked the rumour of EVD in Imo, Abia and Cross River states, adding that the case of the disease in Kwara was still under investigation.

"The mother of the child in Kwara tested negative and we are still investigating the child. Also, the case of the corpse in Anambra was already embalmed and we are waiting for the test result.

"All the mortuary attendants who had contact with the corpse tested negative. So, there is no need to panic," he said.

Expert reaction to Nano Silver

An online site revealed that Nano Silver has been used as an antimicrobial agent for thousands of years - the Romans used to use silverware to reduce food and drink-borne infection.

More recently, nanoparticles of silver have been used in everything from food containers to socks in an attempt to imbue them with microbe-killing properties.

When used in the right way, the material certainly does exhibit antimicrobial properties. But there's a massive jump from odour-resistant socks to curing Ebola patients.

According to Andrew Maynard of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, "colloidal nano silver - nanometer-sized silver particles suspended in water - has been used by people to self-medicate innumerable conditions for around a century now".

Although there is no clear evidence that it has beneficial health effect at low concentrations, it can cause the disease argyria at high concentrations.

Nano Silver has been on the radar of researchers and regulators for over a decade now, for it is a substance that may be more toxic than originally thought.

As a result, there has been an intense global research effort into its human and ecological toxicity in recent years.

Studies have shown that nanoscale silver particles can be harmful if released into the environment in large quantities, and may possibly cause harm in unexpected ways in the human body under specific circumstances.

Yet there's been little published on the use of nano silver as a treatment for infectious diseases.

The scientist who recommended Nano Silver for the treatment of Ebola, Dr Laibow, seems to draw his conclusions from a 2009 presentation of research carried out by Janice Speshock and Saber Hussain at the US Air Force National Laboratory.

A US-based pharmacologist and pharmaceutical researcher, Prof. Edward Oparaoji, said that "although Nano silver is relatively safe, with its most common side-effect being argyria - a condition that turns the skin blue or bluish-grey, and worth trying in Ebola patients, there is no record showing it to neither be an experimental drug for Ebola nor an invention of a Nigerian scientist".

Nevertheless, he said, the scientist who sent the medication should be commended.

Also in his reaction, a medical doctor and immediate past president, Nigerian Medical Association(NMA), Dr Osahon Enabulele, noted that it's quite unfortunate that Nigeria and other African countries have put themselves where they are now as a result of their consistent reactionary approach to matters of public health, particularly their poor commitment to investment in health research.

He said, "If we had gotten our act together with appropriate priority given to health, I do not think that any external regulatory body will have the courage to ridicule any African country, Nigeria inclusive. But for as long as we sit back and wait for solutions from Washington for so long are we going to be ridiculed."

According to him, ordinarily, every country is expected to have its own drug regulatory agency that is vested with the authority to approve drugs and medicinal products for human consumption and Nigeria has the equivalent of FDA in Nigeria, that is, NAFDAC."

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InFocus

Nigeria Records First Ebola Survivor

Doctors working.

The doctor who treated the Liberian-American Ebola victim Patrick Sawyer in Lagos has recovered and been discharged from the quarantine unit. Read more »