Ebola: A Positive Nigerian Narrative

The federal government's as well as those of Lagos and Rivers States' response to the Ebola disease has shown that with determination and good efforts, Nigeria can surmount its  social, political and economic problems.

Ojo M. Maduekwe writes Can anything good come out of Nigeria? With her military’s not too impressive handling of the Boko Haram insurgency, not a few Nigerians, home and abroad, have stopped to ask. The country’s leaderships at both the federal and states level have not helped in boosting citizen’s confidence and pride they normally would have had for their country.

Wherein foreigners see the country’s potentials, there are a few Nigerians that question its availability. To them, the Nigerian narrative is not one to be proud of since chasing the Nigerian dream remains elusive. In the past, this depiction of Nigerians’ assessment of Nigeria was dismal but, lately, many have stopped seeking foreigner’s approval of their country and now appreciate Nigeria’s capabilities at better managing her affairs.

With the Nigerian government response, through the federal health ministry, at containing the spread of the Ebola disease, many Nigerians sense of patriotism have been reinforced. To put it simply, in contrast to her handling of other national issues, the Ebola disease, with the cooperation of every Nigerian, has been commendably handled.

Being the most populous African country, when the Ebola virus was first introduced into the country on July 20, 2014, fears that a country-wide spread was going to erupt was high. Likewise, there was great doubt the government would handle it in not just a timely manner but in a way as to contain its spread to only a few states. But that fear is long gone.

Unlike in some other African countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where in an apparent bid at curbing the Ebola spread, the governments have imposed nationwide curfew and quarantined zones, Nigeria has been able to restrict the scourge to few states, while businesses and social activities continue without hindrance.

Nigeria, according to an article in Time Magazine, has largely “contained Ebola in a single cluster traced back to the first imported case, and reported a total of only six deaths”. At the time of writing this article, the number of fatality had increased by one, with 18 people reported to be diseased, while number of cases successfully managed and discharged were eight.

“Total number of cases successfully managed and discharged is now eight. The last case to be discharged, the first secondary contact to be diagnosed and a spouse of a primary contact of the index case, went home from the isolation ward in Lagos yesterday (Tuesday). The ninth survivor is the ECOWAS Commission official who jumped surveillance in Lagos and travelled to Port Harcourt where he infected the doctor who attended to him,” according to the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu.

Initially when the virus was desperately spread by Sawyer, it was difficult at getting Nigerians who were likely infected to cooperate with the government and get treated. But, when it became certain that the government was quick to respond to their need for treatment, the cooperation between health workers and those who were affected increased.

Locally and among the international community, the federal government efforts at taming the virus have been commendable. Nigerians and affected state governments have augmented the federal government effort. The United Nations Special Representatives, Dr. David Navaro, while applauding the federal government said, “This country and its people have performed excellently in their response to Ebola Virus Disease. It has been a whole country effort. The whole of the society has been involved and the correct procedures are being adopted.”

Screening of passengers, which was initially restricted to in-bound passengers from West African countries, especially those of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, has since been expanded to include all in-bound and out-bound passengers from every destination around the globe.

Like the federal government, the governments of both Lagos and Rivers States as well deserve to be commended for the manner in which they continue to swiftly respond to the virus. Aside attention given victims of the disease, both governments have been at the forefront advocating for stringent measures of restraining the continuous spread of the virus.

Lagos government for instance, according to an account in a Wall Street Journal article, in a matter of four days when the case of Sawyer was reported, “crash-trained lab technicians and civil servants on how to enter a house and check for the virus; turned an abandoned government building into an isolation unit; managed to find and cold-call scores of people from blue-collar workers to diplomats who may have touched Sawyer.” According to the article, “What is clear, though is that hundreds more lives could have been saved if more West African governments acted as Lagos did.”

Rivers too, in a matter of days after the Port Harcourt Ebola case was confirmed, initiated one week training for state health workers by professionals from the Elizabeth Griffin Research Foundation in the US. Also, the state government operates a laboratory at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital.

While inspecting the laboratory, the health minister, Chukwu, commended the state government for handling the Ebola disease effectively. He said that Rivers, like Lagos state, will soon be ready to offer assistance on Ebola virus to other states when the need arises.

Lagos and Rivers dissemination of information on progress on the Ebola disease, as well as that of the federal government, have been timely. Even when the rumour of salt being a possible cure was wrongly spread, the federal health ministry was quick at dispelling the falsehood surrounding the rumour. Sadly, two persons were alleged to have died from excessive salt intake.

One of the government’s methods of ensuring that Nigerians have the right information on how best to manage the disease, is by pushing for a more robust personal hygiene practice. It has become commonplace to sometimes find equipment for washing ones hands in public places. In many cases, there are hand sanitizers and promotional materials educating the people on the various and ways of responding to it.

According to the Time, local health experts are not ruling out the possibility of more cases, but appraised the government for quickly and effectively reacting to contain the disease by tracking people who had contact with patients, conducting widespread testing and quarantining suspected victims. The article quoted John Vertefeuille, who leads the Nigeria Ebola response team of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and who said that “The response of the government has been robust.”

Beginning from the index case of Liberian-American financial consultant, Patrick Sawyer, the federal government acted swiftly, moving past the controversies surrounding Sawyer’s entry into the country. There was a focus on checkmating what had already become a health concern, as Nigerian medical practitioners were on strike at the time.

Haven called off the strike and surmounted the fear of an outbreak occurring during such a period, Chukwu believes that, “We have not eliminated the disease. We have not eradicated it.” Although “this could be a long and a hard fight,” according to a spokesman for the CDC team on Ebola in Nigeria, David Daigle, the manner with which the government has been handling this first instance has emboldened Nigerians to have a positive outlook.

So far Nigeria has been successful at detecting and managing the spread of the virus but experts said the country does not possess the equipment to diagnose the disease. Since international health experts are forecasting that the country would battle the virus for some time to come, it is pertinent that a proactive government ensures that everything needed is put in place.

Also, as a way of instilling pride and a patriotic spirit in Nigerians in every profession, many people are asking the federal government to honour the first doctor to attend to Sawyer, late Stella Adadevoh. The fourth Nigerian to have died of the virus, Adadevoh passed away on August 19. On several newspapers and blogs, Nigerians continue to pay their tributes.

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