Worried about the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the West African sub-region, the Lagos State Government has been making efforts to reach out to the federal government to close the nation’s borders with neigbouring West African countries for a period until the deadly infection has been brought under control.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) over the weekend had declared that the EVD had spiralled out of control.
Sources close to Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State informed THISDAY over the weekend that there were frantic efforts by the governor to contact President Goodluck Jonathan before his departure to the United States on Saturday night to discuss the option of closing the borders with other West African countries.
The sources however said the president could not be reached before he flew out of the country to Washington DC for the African Leadership Summit due to commence today.
Although the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, had said the federal government was not contemplating the closure of borders, the Lagos State Government held the view that their closure might become imperative given the reports of the return of bodies of persons suspected to have died from the virus in some neigbouring West African countries.
“We have a growing number of cases where bodies of relations who may have died of the Ebola disease are being transported home through the borders for burial here in Nigeria, in accordance with the cultural demands of bringing corpses home.
“We fear that if this is unchecked, it could promote the spread of the infection, especially if the dead persons were victims of the EVD infection,” one source close to the governor said.
Sources in the state further explained that it had become expedient for the federal government to take the effect of the spread of the disease seriously and regard it as a “national security” matter, which should override all other commercial and treaty obligations with Nigeria’s West African neighbours.
They expressed concern that “should Ebola virus spread in a densely populated city like Lagos, it would be difficult to control”.
The sources added that the federal government would need to reach out to families of EVD victims in neighbouring countries and advise them to suspend bringing home the bodies of relations for burial.
“They should be educated that it is safer for bodies of EVD victims to be cremated in the countries where they died, and save others the risk of contracting the disease if the bodies are brought back to Nigeria,” an aide of the governor said.
The aide also made reference to the Anambra State incident last week when the state government ordered the closure of a hospital in Awka where the body of a man living in Liberia was deposited in the hospital’s morgue, preparatory for burial.
The Anambra State Government had explained that although no test had confirmed that the man died of EVD, it needed to take precautionary measures to protect the rest of society.
Sources told THISDAY that the position of the Lagos State Government was further strengthened by the fact that two of the medical doctors who treated the late Liberian diplomat, Mr. Patrick Sawyer, who died in Lagos penultimate Friday, had taken ill with fever, compelling the medical authorities in Lagos to quarantine them in special units for observation.
Also, determined not to leave anything to chance, the Lagos State Government in collaboration with officials of the Federal Ministry of Health, yesterday paid a sensitisation visit to The Synagogue Church of All Nations in Ikotun, a suburb of Lagos, to educate the congregation on the deadly disease, and to discourage the General Overseer of the Church, Prophet Temitope Joshua, from allowing worshippers from affected West African countries into his church.
Led by the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, the delegation offered to work with the health team of the church in the areas of technical assistance, medical advice and training to ensure that no victim of the deadly disease comes to the church from any of the affected countries undetected.
Idris said the delegation decided to pay the visit to the church because of the recognition that the church is an international Christian centre whose congregation comprises people from all over the world including countries of the West African sub-region (especially Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone), which have already been affected by the Ebola disease.
He stressed that it is all about preventing the spread of the disease in the country by educating their adherents to avoid escalating the health issues.
Also speaking on the mission of the delegation, Director, Centre for Disease Control, Professor Abdulsalami Nasidi, epidemiologist and virologist, said the visit was also to inform the synagogue leader of the deadliness of the Ebola virus and to ensure that it does not escape into the country, adding that it had become such a big problem in the sub-region and is already affecting the economies of the countries involved.