Notwithstanding the glaring danger posed by the Ebola disease to Nigeria and the possibility of the virus spreading from other West African countries to the country, the federal government at the weekend allayed the fears of Nigerians, stating that efforts are on top gear to contain the disease.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, told journalists in Abuja that government had put in place concrete steps to avert the spread of the epidemic to Nigeria.
Chukwu’s assurance came amid World Health Organisation’s (WHO) warning that there are ominous signs that the disease may spread across the West African region, including reaching countries like Nigeria with higher population.
Giving a background to the origin of the disease, Chukwu said the virus “started from the Republic of Guinea and it spread to Liberia and also to Sierra Leone. This is the second time we are hearing the story about its spread (to Nigeria) The first time, it was not true.”
On the role Nigeria played at the recent parley in Accra, Ghana, the minister said “Ministers of Health had a meeting in Accra, Ghana at the instance of WHO to review strategies on how to control these outbreaks in West Africa because this is the first time Ebola is occurring in West Africa. We used to think it was a problem for Central Africa. Even though I couldn’t attend and the Minister of State couldn’t attend, we were also handling other responsibilities. We sent the Project Director of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control to represent us along with other Ministry of Health officials. They came back and I have been briefed.”
He explained: “What has happened is that WHO has reviewed the situation with the ministers from Africa. We have all agreed to re-enforce what we are doing.”
“In the case of Nigeria, we are carrying out surveillance through our Port Health Services at the point of entry. You know again because of the way Nigerian land borders are, sometimes you do have leakages where people just walk across through unauthorised border areas. We are trying to work with other agencies because we can’t do it alone.
“We need to work with the Ministry of Agriculture which is currently monitoring the migrant populace. You know people migrate for one reason or the other; they are already monitoring some of them, especially those who are nomad pastoralists.”
The minister contended that there is the “need to work with the Ministry of Interior in terms of checking our borders. What we do is that we watch out for people coming in from these areas, especially people who are travelling from Central Africa. When they come into Nigeria, we need to ensure that we monitor them, track to ensure that even when they have fever, we would make sure what that fever is.
“We have put those things in place. There is no vaccine; that is the danger. If there were vaccines, federal government would procure vaccine and begin to immunize people. There is no vaccine, so everything depends on surveillance.”
He stated that “Nigerians should be part of the efforts. It has been shown that in the case of Guinea, bats have played a key role. Bats are also in Nigeria like in many other countries. And, bats, when they harbour this virus, it doesn’t do any harm to bats. But, when people get involved into, maybe, fruits that were eaten by the bats, they inject this virus and it becomes harmful to human beings. It is a very fatal disease. It is like nine out of ten that infected affected are likely to die. So, it is worse than laser fever. Laser is terrible, not to talk of Ebola.
“That is why we should commend President Goodluck Jonathan for approving the white paper the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control should be allowed to run as a parastatal, not just as a department in the federal ministry.”
That notwithstanding, there are growing fears that the Ebola virus may soon find its way to Nigeria, given the way Nigerians travel around the West African region.
Also, instances of government’s public awareness has been porous, creating doubts about government preparedness to prevent the spread of the disease to Nigeria.
There is also no travel ban on Nigerians to the affected countries, where scores have died as a result of the disease.
THISDAY checks revealed that surveillance on the part of Port Health Services around the airports and seaports had not been strengthened enough to curtail the spread of Ebola through screening of passengers to and fro affected countries.