The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week alerted the world to another outbreak of Ebola disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). At the last count, no fewer than three persons were reported dead from the viral disease while more than 200 people were placed under surveillance in the central African nation. It is a wake-up call for Nigeria.
We must recall that the outbreak of the disease in 2014 spread panic in the West African sub-region and led to the deaths of some 11,300 people mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. In Nigeria, Ebola also claimed eight lives, including Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh of the First Consultant Hospital, Lagos. The index case in Nigeria in 2015 came via a Liberian diplomat who flew into the country with the virus.
In preparation against the spread of the disease to Nigeria this time, the federal government has constituted an "Ebola Preparatory Working Group" with the mandate to review all protocols and lessons from our response during the last Ebola outbreak in the country. The group was also expected to prepare the foundation that the country would build on handling the disease in the event of another outbreak. "The team is working to compile a list of trained Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) case managers and get in immediate contact with them. We are identifying isolation wards that can be used immediately especially in Abuja and Lagos," said Professor Isaac Adewole, the Health Minister.
According to Adewole, since the Ebola disease is not indigenous to Nigeria, it could only be imported into the country through the borders: land, sea and airports. And more, since there are no direct flights to Nigeria from the DRC, it is important that all passengers coming through our borders be thoroughly screened. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has also urged the federal government to strengthen its response team and increase surveillance on the nation's borders.
Ebola is a deadly viral disease which kills victims within a week of infection, leaving little or no time for treatment. It has no known vaccine or cure and it has most of the symptoms of malaria: fever, sore throat, headache, vomiting, etc. The virus spreads by contact with infected blood and bodily fluids and it takes between two days to three weeks before the complete symptoms manifest.
Many Nigerians and indeed the international community commended the Nigerian government and the health authorities for the swift response in dealing with the disease which spread to Nigeria in 2015. The appropriateness of the response at the time saved the lives of many Nigerians. But same cannot be said of the recent outbreak of meningitis where the health authorities were evidently caught unawares. As we write, the epidemic is still raging with more than 1000 dead.
Notwithstanding the preparations of the authorities to contain Ebola in case of another outbreak, we urge Nigerians to continue to observe good hygienic behaviour that includes regular hand washing and general environmental cleanliness. The sanitisers that disappeared from the banks' entrances, schools, offices; the thermometers that have been withdrawn from the local and international and local airports as well as other border entries should be restored as a means of constantly monitoring people until it's confirmed that the virus is exterminated.
Fortunately, there are efforts towards such a goal. The WHO announced sometime ago that one of the candidate vaccines developed in a research project by a pharmaceutical company has been found to offer 100 per cent protection against Ebola in humans. Great news, but the WHO said more conclusive evidence was needed to prove the vaccine's capacity to protect populations through what is called "herd immunity".
Until such conclusive evidence materialises, the best defence against the scourge is eternal vigilance.