That the Ebola virus is in Nigeria is no longer news, that the first case was recorded in Lagos is not news either; the alarming news is the fact that barely three weeks after the first case was recorded in the state, many residents have been disturbed.
The deadly virus, last Tuesday, claimed for the first time, the life of a Nigerian, one of the nurses, who had first degree contact with the 40-year-old American Liberian, Patrick Sawyer that imported the disease into the country.
Sawyer, who works with his country’s Ministry of Finance, according to reports, came from Moronvia to attend an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) conference in Calabar. He fell critically ill at the airport and was taken to the First Consultant Hospital at Obalende, in Lagos, where he later died.
From all indications, more deaths could be recorded in the days to come, as the EVD, has no known cure yet, with seven people confirmed to have been infected so far.
There have been reports that a certain serum, ZMapp, has been developed in the United States of America for the treatment of the disease. Ekiti State governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, in Lagos on Wednesday, spoke on the possibility of Nigeria seeking help from the US in that regards.
“The drug has not been certified as a cure for the disease, however, the Federal Government can try out its efficacy in a control centre,” he said.
Although the necessary safety measures in accordance to the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards were taken in disposing Sawyers’ body: by cremation; and the First Consultant Hospital temporarily shut down for decontamination, there remains palpable fear in Lagosians over the hospital and its environs.
Speaking with some residents in the vicinity, the area seems to have been tagged as some sort of death zone, and they are avoiding it like a plague.
Mrs Anjola Braimoh, a single mother who works in the area, said, “Even after everything dies down and the Ebola problem ends, we doubt if people will be willing to visit that hospital again. There are several other hospitals all over the country; why risk your life?” she said.
“In fact, if not because of responsibilities at home, I could stop coming to work because being alive is more important. But I have no choice except I want to go hungry.”
A student, Blessing Idowu, said, “my family cannot move away because of this disease, but my parents have loaded the house with hand sanitisers and even rub it all over my arm and legs anytime I am going out.”
As stories about the virus continue to spread around the nation like wild fire, some myths have also come up. This clearly calls for more awareness programmes by authorities in Lagos State and the Federal Government.
The Lagos Commissioner for Health, Mr Jide Idris, has said that prevention was currently the only remedy to this virus and this involved avoiding direct body contact with infected persons, keeping the environment clean and sanitised, maintaining regular hand washing culture and general personal hygiene measures.
He announced media set up by the state government for information. They are 0800 EBOLA HELP (0800326524357); www.ebolaalert.org; on Facebook: facebook.com/ebolaalert and Twitter: @ebolaalert.
Special Adviser to the Lagos State governor on Public Health, Dr Yewande Adeshina, said symptoms of the Ebola virus ranged from fever, headache, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting sore throat and joint pains.
Towards collective measures at containing this virus, Nigerian South West governors, had an emergency meeting on Wednesday in Lagos.
Addressing press men at the governor’s office in Alausa, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos said illegal cross border movements from Ebola-affected countries especially, were one of the major constraints to combating the virus.
He appealed to the Federal Government to mobilise all necessary manpower and equipment to mend this hitch, as there were over 70 of such illegal borders across the state, even as states currently did not have enough manpower to handle this singlehandedly.
Meanwhile, the state health commissioner, Mr Idris, called on all religious groups in the state to put a hold on every planned gatherings until a solution to the virus is found as such situations put people at higher risks.
According to him, the advice was in the interest of the public, as such gatherings often involved people from foreign countries. “We are worried that a gathering of large group of people would not be the best at this period. Those churches and Islamic associations that are planning large gatherings should stop for now.”
In response to government’s urgent call for more health volunteers, the National Medical Association (NMA) decided against suspending its strike to help fight the Ebola crises, despite promises of insurance cover for them.
The Lagos commissioner said, “We are appealing to the doctors on strike to resume work and set aside their grievances. This situation is a dire emergency and our health professional must recognise that.”
However, speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, the president, NMA, Lagos State branch, Dr Tope Ojo, expressed his scepticism at government’s ability to truly offer protection for the doctors by making available all the necessary equipment and facilities.
“People need to stop victimising doctors over this issue. If the NMA suspends its strike today, it does not mean a cure to the virus would automatically come up.” He charged government to make ready all necessary arrangements before doctors could begin to volunteer.
The Minster of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said an emergency operations centre would be set up in Lagos and be fully functional from last Thursday, with a six-man inter agency team drawn from the National primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), the WHO, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to in the completion of the set up.
The advent of this deadly virus is no doubt testing the already unstable situation of things in the Nigerian health sector but with all hands on deck and strict adherence to all preventive measures, the Ebola can be contained and stopped before it blows beyond proportion.