The authorities must be proactive against the deadly virus

The renewed spike in Ebola epidemic in Democratic Republic of Congo is a wake-up call for the federal government to be proactive against the deadly virus. That the number of fatalities keeps rising despite the efforts by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in helping the country to contain the deadly disease should serve as a warning to the Nigerian health authorities.

Ebola is a haemorrhagic fever with symptoms such as headache, muscle and throat pains, diarrhea and vomiting. It can last for two days before it starts manifesting. The disease manifests rapidly as influenza while death results from fluid redistribution, tissue necroses and even hypertension. It takes between two and three weeks before the complete symptoms manifest. What makes Ebola disease rather dangerous is that it can spread among the people very easily and it kills at a very high rate.

The first outbreak of the disease in 2014 within the West African sub-region claimed no fewer than 11,300 lives, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Eight people also died in Nigeria from Ebola, which presence was first confirmed in the country. The most notable victim was Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh of the First Consultant Hospital, Lagos, who treated the Liberian diplomat, Mr Patrick Sawyer, who deliberately flew into the country with the virus.

Meanwhile, the response of both the federal government and the authorities in many of the states, especially Lagos, to the last outbreak, four years ago, was decisive and resolute. Isolation centres were established in Lagos and Port Harcourt for infected persons while those that came into contact with the victims, including health workers, were placed under strict surveillance. The approach prevented the disease from escalating and was globally acclaimed as a template in Ebola contact management.

However, we have our reservations about the preparedness of the current government in Nigeria to manage any outbreak, if it mutates beyond the DR Congo frontiers into Nigeria. This fear is genuine and reinforced by the exertion of the federal government in coping with the worst cases of Lassa fever outbreak that affected almost all states of the country, last year and through the first quarter of 2018. The Lassa fever epidemic left a large number of deaths and exposed the gap in our health care management.

It is therefore important for the federal government to heed the warning of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) that has urged it to strengthen its response team and increase surveillance on the nation’s borders through screening of in-bound passengers. In the same light, the proposal by Health Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, to set up an Ebola Preparatory Working Group with the mandate to review all protocols and lessons from previous experience in the event of another outbreak is a strategic move. The response team has drawn a list of trained Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) case managers and also identified isolation wards to be used immediately in Abuja and Lagos.

While the necessary steps embarked upon to educate citizens about the danger of Ebola are welcome, more awareness is still needed. A probable way of addressing future cases of not just Ebola threat but other diseases is to foreground the works of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) whose current leadership has shown both competence and commitment and entrust it with more responsibility that are geared towards disease prevention. In the same token, health facilities and personnel at the nation’s various ports and entry points should be revived and strengthened.

In all, health officials and policymakers must remain vigilant, as the possibility of Ebola virus spreading to Nigeria cannot be ruled out. To be forewarned, as the old adage goes, is to be forearmed.