3 September 2014

Nigeria: WHO Raises Hope on Control of Ebola

Photo: Boakai Fofana/allAfrica
A burial team carries the body of a suspected Ebola victim from a community in Monrovia under the watchful eyes of police officers.

World Health Organisation (WHO) has assured Nigerians that the killer Ebola virus diseases (EVD) can be systematically put under control if adequate hygienic basic standard are strictly adhered to.

Country Director of the organisation, Rui Vaz, who gave the assurance on Tuesday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, commended government's prompt response to the outbreak of the virus by curtailing its widespread to other parts of the country.

"I will like to highlight that Ebola can be contained and we are going to contain it; there is no doubt, but everything depends on all of us.

"It is not only the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. This is a cross-cutting issue, it's an inter-sartorial response, it requires attention, and the critical matter is the leadership and ownership of the process."

Vaz said WHO was in Nigeria (Rivers State) to provide technical support against the scourge.

"We are a technical agency. We are not a financial agency. It is very important to highlight that there is a strong commitment by His Excellency, the Executive Governor (Rotimi Amaechi) the Honourable Commissioner, and also, other entities.

"I see also the high involvement of the private sector; vis-a-vis the response," Vaz said.

He noted that Rivers State is an important economic front in the country that requires some particular attention.

Since the information of the first Ebola case, Vaz said, "We deployed immediately, our colleagues from Lagos and they came here and first, they helped to establish the emergency operation centre (EOC) and it is already done.

"We also brought our colleagues with very high expertise from Lagos and they are here. We also brought experts from our headquarters in Geneva. We have people from our regional office; we have people from our country office."

Vaz reiterated that the most important thing in Ebola control is the early diagnosis of any potential suspected case and necessary precautions, in terms of isolation where it is needed, and other measures to stop the chain of infection.

"When we speak about training, we should involve everybody. The disease doesn't know if it is a private or a public hospital. We need to train everybody to be aware. This is why the role of the media is critical," he noted.

WHO also said the EVD has highly impacted on the health-care workers across the West African sub region, killing 120 out 240 people infected.

It said since the outbreak of Ebola early this year, 2,615 persons have been infected out of which 1,427 have died.

In Nigeria, out of the six deaths recorded, three are health-care providers.

Speaking at a one-day training the trainers' national workshop and formal launching of the WHO interim infection prevention and control guidance for healthcare workers in Abuja, National President of the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, Ayuba Wabba, said health workers are particularly vulnerable due to the nature of healthcare delivery.

Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for West Africa (SRSG), Said Djinnit, has also convened a meeting of the regional UN team based in Dakar to review developments in West Africa.

According to a statement on Tuesday, the meeting, comprising heads of regional offices of UN entities in the region, reviewed the ongoing efforts to address the Ebola crisis.

The meeting welcomed the appointment by the Secretary-General of Dr. David Nabarro as the Senior UN System Coordinator for Ebola virus disease, who concluded his tour of the region on August 28.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and African leaders have also warned that the knee-jerk response to the serial EVD outbreaks in West Africa, such as the closing of borders and cancellation of flights are having counter-productive economic and social impact on the sub-region.

Consequently, they called on all countries not to take any decision that suggests full embargo against Ebola-affected states.

In an open letter signed by Obasanjo, together with the President of Tanzania, other former heads of state and other prominent people, including popular musicians of African descent, as well as leaders from civil society and business, they launched a call for more solidarity and a more coordinated approach to deal with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

They are more concerned that the effect could be more on a young democracy as Liberia's which has come out of a long and debilitating civil war.

Describing the approach as one that has been denounced by both the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the WHO) the signatories also called on all citizens to play their role by demanding a coordinated and rational response from African governments and international institutions.

High profile leaders such as former Presidents Mkapa of Tanzania and Obasanjo have signed the petition, as well as Graça Machel, civil society leader and wife of the late President Mandela, the singer and former Minister Youssour N'Dour and a number of prominent leaders and personalities from music, media and business.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also warned that disruptions in food trade and marketing in the three West African countries most affected by Ebola have made food increasingly expensive and hard to come by, while labour shortages are putting the upcoming harvest season at serious risk.

A statement by FAO said in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, quarantine zones and restrictions on people's movement aimed at combating the spread of the virus, although necessary, have seriously curtailed the movement and marketing of food.

This has led to panic buying, food shortages and significant food price hikes on some commodities, especially in urban centres, according to a special alert issued on Tuesday by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

"At the same time, the main harvest season for two key crops - rice and maize - is just weeks away.

"Labour shortages on farms due to movement restrictions and migration to other areas will seriously impact farm production, jeopardising the food security of large numbers of people", the alert said.

It added: "Generally, adequate rains during the 2014 cropping season had previously pointed to likely favourable harvests in the main Ebola-affected countries.

"But now food production - the areas most affected by the outbreak are among the most productive in Sierra Leone and Liberia - stands to be seriously scaled back.

"Likewise, production of cash crops like palm oil, cocoa and rubber - on which the livelihoods and food purchasing power of many families depend - is expected to be seriously affected.

"Access to food has become a pressing concern for many people in the three affected countries and their neighbours," said Bukar Tijani, FAO Regional Representative for Africa.

Also addressing newsmen on the update of the virus in Rivers State, Commissioner for Health, Samson Parker, explained that Ebola response "is not just a government thing; it is not the Ministry of Health, it is all stakeholders' affair".

"That is why we have what we call the stakeholders' committee in Rivers State; the organised private sector is involved; private hospitals are involved and the government sector is there," the commissioner added.

On the fate of 60 suspected contact persons with late Dr Iyke Enemuo who escaped from being isolated, Parker disclosed that almost all of them have been found as at Monday evening.

"We have 96 per cent coverage, which is huge and which is a good success, and by now, as we are talking, they would have finished everything. So, we are on it and almost all of them have been contacted," he said.

Also on Tuesday, the death of a patient suspected to have Ebola caused panic among patients and doctors at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos.

A reliable source said the patient was brought in by members of the health authorities at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, to the hospital on Monday.

According to the doctor who was on duty when the patient was admitted into the Accident and Emergency Unit, the patient was vomiting blood and stooling, symptoms which are similar to that of an Ebola patient, before he died early on Tuesday at the Spill-Over Ward of the hospital.

Chief Medical Director (CMD) of LUTH, Akin Osinbogun, confirmed when contacted by Daily Independent that a patient was brought in from the Domestic Wing of the airport in quite a sick state and was said to be arriving Lagos from Jos.

According to Osinbogun, "the patient was reported to be vomiting and stooling and equally had fever at the time of arrival and she was brought to our hospital where she later died.

"It is not clear yet if the patient actually had Ebola virus disease, as we are still investigating her blood sample to determine cause of death; so it would not be right for us to raise an alarm or send out fear that an Ebola patient had died at LUTH," the CMD said.

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) also raised the alarm on the ill preparedness of some states in the fight to curb the deadly EVD.

The association said essential structures and framework for containing the outbreak on a national scale are not in place, particularly at the state and local government levels.

It, therefore, called on the Federal Government to ensure the creation of functional EVD control committees at all levels of government.

Besides, NMA at the end of its National Executive Council meeting in Awka, Anambra, called on the Federal Government to police the nation's borders and ports to avert further spread of the disease.

Meanwhile, Ondo State Health Commissioner, Dayo Adeyanju, has debunked rumours that cases of EVD has spread to some parts of the state.

Adeyanju explained that the rumoured case at Erusu- Akoko and Akure were other illness, which had nothing to do with EVD.

Another report said later on Tuesday said that a 19-year-old student of Law at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, has been suspected to be down with the Ebola virus.

Public Relations Officer of the ABU Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Bilyaminu Umar, while confirming the case on Monday via telephone, said the student was diagnosed at the hospital in Shika and that he showed some symptoms associated with the disease.

"Yes, there was a case of a suspected Ebola patient. He is with the Faculty of Law, ABU, Zaria, and will be placed on isolation. I am out of town, but will confirm details on my return from a trip," he said.

However, experts have said not all patients who manifest some symptoms of the virus end up testing positive to the disease. A definitive test will have to confirm that.

Yinka Shokunbi, Onche Odeh, Ejikeme Omenazu (Lagos), Daniel Abia (Port Harcourt), Yemi Akintomide (Akure) and Chibuzor Emejor (Abuja)

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