The Federal Government has banned the repatriation of human remains into the country in a bid to prevent the importation of infectious ailments following the recent outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The embargo was placed yesterday on the heels of the transportation into the country by an airline, Kenya Airways, of a dead Nigerian from Kinshasha. The decision of the government is crucial in the light of the fact that in 2014, Patrick Sawyer introduced Ebola to Nigeria when he arrived from Liberia.
Addressing a press briefing in Lagos, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole and the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, said the decision followed a breach of one of the nation's regulations by the foreign carrier.
According to the minister, who was represented by Dr. Joshua Obasanya, Kenya Airways flew the corpse into Nigeria without getting the necessary clearance from the Port Health Services of the ministry which issues guidelines for waiver before such repatriation is carried out.
His words: "The Federal Government of Nigeria and relevant agencies condemn this deliberate breach."
Adewole said in line with industry practice, a report had been lodged with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to probe the incident and sanction the airline accordingly just as he disclosed that a high-powered investigation has begun to unravel the immediate and remote intentions of the perpetrator.
He reiterated the existence of the ban, threatening strict sanctions for offenders. "The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari takes the health of her citizens seriously and will not shy away from wielding the big stick on any errant individual or organisation," Adewole warned.
However, Idris disclosed that laboratory test carried on the corpse showed no trace of the deadly Ebola virus or any other contagious infections.
"We assure everyone to go about their normal business without any anxiety. Government will want everyone to be vigilant and encourage all our officials at land, sea and air borders to continue screening of international passengers," he added.
The commissioner continued: "The minister and myself took some preemptive decisions to avert any possible outbreak after the said breach. The officials of Port Health Division as well as Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and Lagos State Ministry of Health investigated the cause of death of the citizen and took samples for laboratory investigation."
"Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) alerted the whole world to the recent outbreak of Ebola in DRC. Nigeria is keenly following this unfolding event in our sister country. Nigeria wishes the Government of DRC success in her fight against this unfortunate outbreak."
To address the situation, Idris said the Lagos State government had put in place a number of control measures in all of her 20 local councils and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs).
He noted that the state, in collaboration with the Federal Government through the NCDC and Port Health Services, has developed a public health emergency contingency plan at the airport and land borders.
He urged the citizenry to follow the general health promotion and disease prevention measures. They include basic environmental sanitation, including proper disposal of refuse, avoidance of open defecation; regular hand washing with soap and water; personal hygiene and adequate nutrition.
Idris appealed to international passengers to cooperate with officials who are conducting screening at all of the nation's borders, adding that the surveillance is continuous until a contrary directive emerges.
On his part, a Consultant Epidemiologist with the NCDC, Dr. Biodun Ogunniyi, said though there was no fresh outbreak of Ebola nationwide, the government was ready for any emergency.
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Branch of Nigeria Red Cross Society has commenced an orientation programme to prepare the citizenry for the scourge.
Its Chairman, Abdul Rasheed Mobolaji Onibudo, who spoke at a book launch, charged the young ones to imbibe the culture of safety at school, work and public places.