Ebola is a dreadful disease that once ravaged the West Africa coast, leaving in its trail sorrow, tears and blood. According to a World Health Organization, WHO, data, at its peak, Ebola had over 10,000 victims in West Africa. The WHO records further reveals that 9,936 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone contracted the disease. Nigeria also had her own share of the Ebola brouhaha, no thanks to the dastardly escapade of late American-Liberian, Patrick Sawyer.
After weeks of scary Ebola episode, Nigerians were understandably over joyous to hear the news that the country was certified Ebola free. While the Ebola trauma lasted, 19 cases were recorded out of which eight died and 11 survived. Aside the number of lives it claimed and attendant psychological trauma, the Ebola ordeal came with lots of economic losses.
However, years after the nation has happily put the Ebola ghost behind her, scary news about the resurgence of the dreadful disease from DR Congo (DRC) surely calls for serious concern. According to WHO, DRC had over 39 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of Ebola between April 4 and May 13. Also, 393 people that were identified as contacts of Ebola patients are currently being followed up. Alarmed at the latest development, WHO has already moved in to liaise with authorities in DRC to contain the spread. WHO says it is preparing for the “worst case scenario” as it responds to the Ebola outbreak in the DRC.
The DRC has had more Ebola virus outbreaks than any other country in the world. Over the past 10 years, there have been five cases: 2007, from 2008 to 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2017. Indeed, the Ebola virus was first identified in the country in 1976 and gets its name from the Ebola River, which is situated near the village where it was discovered. Scientists believe it was initially present in wild animals living in tropical rainforests in equatorial Africa. Fruit bats have also been identified as one of the main hosts as they can transmit the disease while remaining unaffected by it. The disease spread to humans when they come into contact with blood or other body fluids from infected animals, usually through hunting.
Obviously, if the Ebola trend in DRC is unchecked, Nigeria and other African countries might be some risk. Cheerfully, from her past experience with the disease, Nigerian authorities are conscious of the fact that if the country is not going to be caught napping in another Ebola drama, preparation is quite vital. It is, therefore, pleasing to note that the country’s Centre for Disease Control has taken additional preventive measures such as placing its emergency operations centre on alert and issuing a public health advisory. Also, the National Port Health Services have heightened screening at points of entry. There are also protocols in place to ensure that if a case is suspected, it’s detected early and response activities are initiated immediately.
But then, it should not just be about what individual countries are doing alone. There should be more of collaborative efforts, especially among neighbouring African countries to really ensure that the disease do not have a foothold in the continent again. In 2014, the eventual defeat of Ebola was partly possible because the African Union put up a common front against it. So, the African Union must approach the DRC Ebola renaissance with the same speed and methodology it successfully deployed in 2014.
Meanwhile, as for our country concerned authorities must ensure that our borders are well protected. Health workers at the various local and international airports must ensure that those coming into the country are properly screened to determine their Ebola status. Equally, all hospitals in the country need to train more of their medical personnel on how to handle Ebola related cases.
The Federal Ministry of Health must also step up its public enlightenment campaigns to further create awareness on how to prevent infection from the deadly virus, and in case of infection, how to identify the early symptoms which is characterized by sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, sore throat and death. There is need for aggressive production and distribution of Information, Education and Communication Materials on prevention and management of Ebola Virus. Slots for jingles on radio must be increased and made to have widest coverage.
Similarly, schools must not compromise current hygiene trend. To do that would be suicidal. Officials must continue to insist on proper hygiene among teachers and students while screening of visitors, staff and students must be a continuous process. Appropriate government officials and other key stakeholders in the health and education sectors must continue to pay routine visits to schools in order to ensure compliance with stipulated Ebola preventive measures.
Perhaps more importantly, everybody must be watchful of their health situation and swiftly report any odd health situation to the nearest medical facility. Failure to do this at the right moment may possibly jeopardize numerous lives. This is not exactly the moment in time to play with health related issues. Every household must continue to preach and imbibe positive hygiene measures to guide against harmful tendencies that could jeopardise family health.
In a country where management of emergencies and disasters is lethargic, a nation where healthcare facilities and personnel are grossly inadequate and Doctors’ strike incessant, the possibility of coping with another outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus disease will, no doubt, be very difficult. This is why the authorities must act fast to secure the nation’s borders and prevent entry of the deadly virus.
We must be proactive in our attitude towards the prevention of diseases outbreaks; our responses to catastrophes in this clime are usually reactive. In this instance, our fire-brigade approach of rushing out to quench fire all the time, rather than figure out how to put in place measures to prevent fire outbreaks must be jettisoned. Our nationalistic tendencies for lack of prescience must not prevail in protecting ourselves against the deadly Ebola Virus. A stitch in time saves nine.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information & Stra