Ebola Virus on the Prowl

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There is palpable panic among Nigerians as the federal government confirms cases of Ebola virus in the country. Both the Lagos and federal governments have put in place short and long-term measures to contain the pandemic

By Chinwe Okafor  |  Aug. 18, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

IT IS no more a question as to whether Ebola virus is real. The dreaded Ebola disease is here in Nigeria transported into the country by Patrick Sawyer, a 40 year old Liberian. He died in Lagos on July 25, after his arrival in the country. The news of the death of Sawyer has created palpable fears in Lagos in particular and the South-West geo-political zone as to whether the disease can be controlled in view of the fact that Lagos State has many international markets where traders from many West African countries patronize. Ebola disease is already ravaging some West African countries namely Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Mali.

Ever since the incident, the Lagos state and federal governments are not relenting in their efforts in forestalling the spread of the disease. Also governors of the South West states met in Lagos on Wednesday, August 7, to strategize on how to curb the spread of the dreaded disease which is said to have no known cure.

That notwithstanding, Nigeria has recorded its first known fatality from Ebola virus infection in Lagos with the death of a nurse. The nurse who was formerly reported to be a medical doctor was among the health care workers who attended to Sawyer in the hospital where he was admitted for treatment. Besides, the federal government has confirmed five new cases of Ebola in Lagos and a second death from the virus, bringing the total number of infections in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest city to seven.

Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health, said August 7, in Abuja that Nigeria has now recorded seven confirmed cases of Ebola Virus Disease. According to him, all the Nigerians diagnosed with the virus had primary contacts with the late Sawyer. He added that the five Ebola patients were being treated in an isolation ward in Lagos. The minister said he had reached out to the United States’ health authorities for access to the experimental drug used to treat the two American volunteer doctors who were infected with the disease while treating Ebola patients in Liberia.

According to him, “the Nigerian government is in consultation with the U.S. Centre for Disease Control, CDC, to acquire the ‘secret serum’ used in the treatment of the two American doctors. We are in touch with the Americans and the director of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. I have also inaugurated a treatment research group and one of its terms of reference is to collaborate with similar working groups across the world and now that they have started work, they will get in touch with the Americans and understand what they are doing and whether we have access to similar opportunity.”

Symptoms of Ebola on a victims arm
Symptoms of Ebola on a victims arm

Apart from looking up to the Americans, Chukwu said he had also constituted a committee of medical and health experts to develop a drug for the treatment of the virus. He added that he had confidence in the committee adding “nobody says that new, fresh ideas cannot come out of Nigeria. We should not underestimate the intelligence of Nigerian professionals because I believe something positive is going to come out.”

The Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, is equally moved by the disturbing development. Despite being on a six-week long strike, the association has set up a committee to combat the spread of the virus. Tope Ojo, chairman of the Lagos chapter of the NMA, said a team of doctors from the state has already volunteered to help patients at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, Lagos.

“Strike or no strike, we must respond to emergencies. Our doctors are at Mainland Hospital, Yaba, where isolated contacts are being monitored. There are seven committees working on the management of the disease at the centre in Lagos and our members are part of the various committees. When there is a disaster outbreak, you find out that there will be response by the NMA. The issue of strike will not affect our involvement because the NMA is a responsible body and I can assure you that in as much as we don’t pray for natural disasters, the NMA will definitely respond.

“We worked all through the night trying to find out who should be here or there today. It is not a question of if the hospital is on today, we work more than what we have been doing. But the committee where we are having challenges getting volunteers is case management. These are the people who work directly with confirmed and suspected cases. Look at the protective measures that doctors in Liberia and Guinea wear. They are well protected, yet some of them still catch it. Our doctors are worried about the danger it poses to their lives and they need to be reassured. We understand their fears and we are making moves to confirm the level of preparedness of the government for doctors,” he said.

Ojo also added that apart from the doctor who was confirmed to have Ebola, a matron at the hospital was also showing symptoms of the virus. He said that that the infected doctor was stable, however, that a matron who also helped with the treatment was showing symptoms but everybody including the experts from the World Health Organisation, WHO, were doing all they could.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has began a two-day emergency meeting on West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, with the United Nations, UN, agency in order to decide whether to declare it an international crisis.

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