30 Oct 2014

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Joining forces can shield the nation from harm
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially confirmed that Nigeria has successfully contained the spread of the dreaded Ebola virus. This followed situation reports sent to the United Nations apex health body by its country office in Nigeria after observations that no new case was recorded for 42 days. Against the background that many countries, including United States and Spain, are currently battling the spread of the disease, what Nigeria did was remarkable and has been so acknowledged globally.

In a statement titled “Nigeria is now free of Ebola virus transmission,” WHO said “this is a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained. The story of how Nigeria ended what many believed to be potentially the most explosive Ebola outbreak imaginable is worth telling in detail. Such a story can help the many other developing countries that are deeply worried by the prospect of an important Ebola case and eager to improve their preparedness plans. Many wealthy countries, with outstanding health systems, may have something to learn as well.”

Of all known diseases, Ebola is deadly because it 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. In the absence of vaccines to contain the scourge, there were fears that the outbreak in Nigeria would be difficult to contain given the state of our public health.

However, when the first case broke, the Nigerian government and the health authorities reacted appropriately. All the people who flew in with Mr. Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American who brought the virus to Nigeria were monitored. Others suspected to have interacted with all the infected health workers at the private hospital where he was treated and died were also put under close observation.

With the whole nation put on high alert, many states across the federation and the health authorities did their best, especially in dispelling baseless rumours, discouraging unhelpful practices and rolling out a comprehensive awareness campaign in major indigenous languages. At all the major entry points, there were also Ebola screening while schools were closed for a certain period in the bid to control the spread of the disease. Eventually, all the efforts paid off.

A combination of responsive and proactive actions by two Nigerian public officials, who put politics and partisanship aside, has produced a result that the world is now celebrating. Governor Babatunde Fashola in Lagos, Nigeria's most strategic entry point, and Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, the then Federal Minister of Health, have through their joint and resolute actions achieved what no nation has so far achieved in the fight against Ebola. We commend the leadership displayed by the duo in a moment of great crisis.

No doubt, Nigeria has scored a major victory against Ebola virus for which the world is rightly hailing her. But vigilance must be eternal. While we commend all the relevant stakeholders who worked to attain the feat, it is important to note WHO’s caution that though the battle has been won, the war will only be over when the entire West African sub-region is declared free of the virus.

Besides, the euphoria must not turn to political gloating or, worse of all, complacency. Nigeria must not drop the ball; she must not extract defeat from the jaws of this victory. Nigeria is Ebola- free but the rest of West Africa is not. And there is still free movement of people. Ebola is deadly and eternal vigilance remains Nigeria's first line of defence against the scourge.

Tags: Editorial, Ebola Virus, Featured, WHO

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