1 September 2014

Nigeria: Still On the Ebola Virus Challenge


There is need for vigilance by health authorities across the nation

While giving an update on the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Nigeria last Thursday, Health Minister, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, said the total number of EVD cases so far reported in our country stands at 15 while the total number of cases treated at the isolation ward stands at 13. He added that the total number of deaths from those treated in Lagos is five while the total number currently under treatment is one person whose condition remains stable. That put the number of death from EVD at six while seven persons have been certified to have survived the virus and accordingly discharged from the medical isolation ward.

However, Chukwu explained the new challenge of how Port Harcourt, Rivers State, ended up with an EVD victim in a medical doctor. Investigations had traced the death to a contact the medical practitioner had with a man who himself had direct contact with the late Liberian-American, Mr. Patrick Saywer who brought EVD into Nigeria. Having evaded medical investigation in Lagos to ascertain whether he carried the deadly virus, (which he would later survive), the patient unwittingly transmitted the disease to the Port Harcourt doctor who eventually died.

We commend the Federal Ministry of Health and the Lagos State Government for the attention to details on the Ebola matter, for staying on top of the issue, for their proactive stance, and for providing information in real time. The collaboration between the two tiers of government is also worthy of commendation. However, if there is any lesson that the Port Harcourt death teaches, it is that we are still not out of the woods as far as the EVD menace is concerned. For that reason, there is need for more vigilance on the part of the health authorities not only in Lagos and Abuja but indeed in all the 36 states of the federation.

As a preventive measure against the spread of the EVD, the federal government last week announced the closure of all private and public primary and secondary schools in Nigeria till October 13. To underscore the importance of the decision, announced after a consultative meeting with commissioners of education in the 36 states, Education Minister, Mallam Shekarau Ibrahim, warned that it would be a criminal act for any school to reopen from the holidays in contravention of the directive. According to Shekarau, each private and public school would be required to train, at least two desk officers, in collaboration with ministry of health officials on how to handle any suspected case of Ebola and also embark on immediate sensitisation of all teaching and non-teaching staff in all schools on preventive measures.

While we think that postponing the resumption of school is the right call, even if belated, we need to highlight the fact that those are easy decisions as there are far more pressing issues to deal with as we grapple with the EVD challenge. Already, there are reports that some public and private medical centres are sending away patients who exhibit symptoms they consider to be similar to that of Ebola. Aside the issue of stigmatisation, nothing is more dangerous in the management of a disease of this nature than to leave people with no option than to resort to self-help.

Fortunately, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) last week suspended its strike by asking its members to resume work. A few days later, the federal government lifted the suspension of Residency Training Programme in all federal hospitals while it has also reinstated all resident doctors that were disengaged. It is our hope that all the issues that led to the crisis would be amicably resolved and that the health authorities would keep a united front as we battle the EVD challenge in our country.


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