This Day (Lagos)

27 August 2014

Nigeria: Health Minister - Nigeria Now Has One Active Ebola Case

Photo: Daily Vox
More than 2,000 people have been infected with Ebola so far and over a thousand people have already died.

The Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, has said Nigeria has only one active case of the infectious Ebola virus.

Giving an update on government's effort to contain the disease yesterday during a press-conference in Abuja, Chukwu said: "Today is the 37th day since the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) was imported into Nigeria by a Liberian-American. As of today (yesterday), Nigeria has had 13 cases of EVD, including the index case.

"However, seven of the infected persons were successfully managed at the isolation ward in Lagos and have been discharged.

"Two of the treated patients, a male doctor and a female nurse, were discharged yesterday (Monday) evening, having satisfied the criteria for discharge.

"As I speak with you, Nigeria has only one confirmed case of EVD, a secondary contact of Mr Patrick Sawyer's and spouse of one of the physicians who participated in the management of the index case. She is stable but still undergoing treatment at the isolation ward in Lagos."

He explained that so far, all the reported cases of Ebola in Nigeria had their roots in the index case, the late Sawyer, adding: "This is an indication that thus far, Nigeria has contained the disease outbreak."

The minister, however, refused to be drawn into a hasty conclusion that the virus had been completely eradicated in Nigeria, maintaining that it had been contained but not yet eradicated.

"We cannot say we have eradicated the Ebola virus" Chukwu explained, "We can say we have contained it; every case so far have been traced to one source. Secondly, we have kept the disease in one location in Lagos." Continuing, Chukwu said: "Excellence is a journey, it is not a destination, as every country of the world remains at risk; every citizen of the world remains at risk."

The minister, who was joined at the briefing by the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, assured the global community of the Nigerian government's commitment to remain vigilant. He also took time to explain that Ebola patients who had been declared free of the virus and discharged cannot spread the disease.

"They may be healthier than some people; they are more certain that they are free. They are the safest. If you want anybody to come to your house, these people are the safest," he said, in the bid to stem the stigmatisation of patients who have survived the disease.

The Minister of Health also decried the rumour making the rounds that the N1.9 billion federal government intervention fund relased to combat Ebola was meant for a jamboree.

Chukwu, who expressed concern over the culture of impunity by Nigerians with regards to public funds, promised that the money would be used judiciously.

He said: "The money was made available for an emergency; it is not an Ebola Fund. I hear even villagers are asking for their own share. Nigerians are always asking for money to share."

Chukwu also clarified the rationale behind federal government's disbursement of N200 million to Lagos State, stating that it was meant to tackle the spread of the Ebola virus.

"The money was given to support Lagos State Government because the state had been spending its own funds. The job of preventing the outbreak of an epidemic is not a state duty, it is a federal government responsibility," he maintained.

LASG Hasn't Received a Dime

Also, giving an update on the containment of the disease, the Lagos State Government yesterday confirmed that two additional victims of Ebola have been discharged, thereby bringing the number of survivors to seven. The state government, however, disclosed that it had not received the N200 million, which the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved last week for the containment of the virus.

The state's Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, who gave the update alongside his information counterpart, Mr. Aderemi Ibirogba, and Special Adviser to the Governor on Media, Mr. Hakeem Bello, said 331 contacts "have been followed up so far".

At the briefing, Idris advised residents of Lagos not to panic, stating that getting infected with Ebola was not an automatic death sentence.

"This has been buttressed by the recovery of seven confirmed suspects, who have been re-integrated successfully with their families and communities. The common trend among the recovered cases is their early presentation for supportive treatment. "There is no need to hide friends and relations we suspect have come down with the disease. The earlier they are brought for screening and surveillance, the better the outcome," he said.

On the N200 million, Idris said the state government "is yet to get a dime from the federal government to boost the containment and management of the virus".

On the contacts traced so far, the commissioner said the contact-tracing team had screened and tracked a total of 321 contacts in the state alone.

He, however, said an additional 10 contacts "were listed on Monday, raising it to 331. Of the number, 159 have been cleared and discharged on completion of the 21-day surveillance".

He explained that there "are 13 confirmed and one suspected case. The suspected case is awaiting the test result to inform the next line of action".

He added that the virus had claimed five patients in total, acknowledging that three of the Ebola victims were cremated and two others buried normally after their bodies were decontaminated in line with international best practices.

Currently, the commissioner said there "are two cases in the isolation ward. Of the two cases, one is confirmed while the other is suspected. Both of them are at the isolation facilities in Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), Yaba". He explained the process by which confirmed, probable and suspected cases are discharged. "The process is in line with global best practices, involving reviews by critical members of the Ebola Emergency Operations Centre," he explained.

Like Chukwu, he urged Lagos residents not to stigmatise victims and contacts, whom he said had been given a clean bill of health.

Adadevoh's Sister is Ebola-free

The commissioner also denied news reports that the sister of an Ebola victim and consultant physician at the First Consultants Medical Centre, the late Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, had tested positive to the deadly virus. He said the reports were false and untrue, noting that the person in question, Ms. Amy Adadevoh, was discharged from the isolation ward last week after the 21-day surveillance.

He described the spread of rumours, speculation and false stories as a critical challenge undermining the fight against the dreaded virus.

He explained that the manner rumours, speculation and false stories spread on the social media have continued "to create unnecessary and avoidable anxiety and worries." "They have the capacity to undermine the efforts being made to contain and manage this outbreak, as those who ought to present themselves for treatment may be discouraged," he said.

FG Shifts Schools' Resumption

Meanwhile, to effectively curb the spread of Ebola, the federal government yesterday directed that all public and private primary and secondary schools in the country must remain closed until October 13th, 2014.

This, it said, is to ensure adequate preventive measures are put in place before the pupils return to school. The Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, met with the states' Commissioners for Education Forum in Abuja yesterday to discuss how to handle the matter which continues to cause a lot of apprehension in the country.

At the meeting, the Federal Ministry of Health's Director of Ports Health Service, Dr. Sani Gwarzo, briefed the meeting on steps to be taken to prevent the spread among school children.

He urged the ministry and the Forum of Education Commissioners to urgently come up with a policy document on EVD for schools, and back it up with a work plan, adequate funding, and collaboration with other stakeholders on Ebola such as the Ministries of Health and Environment.

Gwarzo cited Ghana, which had already commenced training of school teachers and staff of both public and private schools on preventing the spread of Ebola.

"What do you do in the event of ill-health in the school? Do you have the facilities to isolate any suspected case for 21 days? How do you make sure you have enough water, which is one of the key management recommendations of EVD?

"How do you manage the panic? Before you know, the children have phoned their parents and the parents will want to take their healthy children away. If it is Ebola and the parents insist on taking away their children, are you going to be able to keep them?" he enquired.

In the policy document released late yesterday evening, all state Ministries of Education were directed to ensure that at least two members of staff in each public and private school are trained by appropriate health workers on how to handle any suspected case of Ebola.

The ministries are also to embark on immediate sensitisation of all teaching and non-teaching staff in all schools on preventive measures and the training must be concluded by September 15, 2014. The ministry also directed that all summer school programmes going on in some private schools must be stopped immediately. "All state Ministries of Education should establish a working and monitoring team for effective supervision of school activities before and after opening of schools.

"State governments are called upon to support their state Ministries of Education with all the necessary funds to ensure effective implementation of these preventive measures," the policy statement read.

"All tertiary institutions are advised to suspend exchange of staff and student programmes, visits and major international seminars and workshops until further notice. They are also to monitor the movement of foreign students in their campuses. They are to liaise with appropriate government health institutions to organise and ensure effective sensitisation programmes for all their teaching and non-teaching staff. All federal government colleges are also affected by the directive," it added.

"The Minister of Education and all state Commissioners for Education will meet again on 23rd September, 2014 to review the situation in all states," it read.

UNICEF Deploys Emergency Supplies to W'Africa

However, with growing fears over the possibility of further spread of Ebola across the African continent, UNICEF yesterday deployed its largest emergency supply to West Africa, Sudan and countries where conflicts have taken a toll on the lives of women and children.

Though Nigeria was not mentioned among the countries to benefit from the emergency supplies, a reliable source in UNICEF told THISDAY that the distribution would be done according to the scale of the impact of the virus and crisis involved.

But UNICEF, in a statement, said: "Given the scope of the conflicts and outbreak of Ebola, the organisation has shipped 1,000 metric tonnes of life-saving supplies for children caught in the world's most urgent crises -- the largest emergency supply operation in the organisation's history in a single month. The amount delivered would fill 19 cargo jumbo jets."

UNICEF's Director of Supply and Logistics Operations, Shanelle Hall explained that "UNICEF's massive deployment responds to a massive need in many different countries at the same time" is aimed at bringing relief to those most affected.

"Now it is vital to keep humanitarian corridors open so these supplies continue to reach the children who desperately need them," she stressed.

She said: "Liberia's effort to contain the Ebola outbreak has been strengthened by 248 MT of supplies from UNICEF, such as latex gloves, safety goggles, and overalls to protect health workers, concentrated chlorine disinfectant and a range of essential medicines. UNICEF is also helping the government assess the country's supply chain capacity, which is strained by the crisis.

"Central African Republic received 26 MT in medical equipment, vaccines, emergency food rations and hardware to dig water wells. Among essential medicines, anti-malarial supplies have been critical in protecting children from the country's leading cause of death."

The statement also said: "South Sudan has received 34 MT of life-saving nutritional support and supplies, including ready-to-use therapeutic foods for vulnerable children, 50,000 of whom are at the risk of dying from malnutrition. "Nearly one million children under five-year-old in South Sudan will require treatment for acute malnutrition this year."

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