Vigilance over Ebola
Fatal outbreaks of Ebola disease in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Liberia have galvanised frantic efforts in many other African countries, especially in the West, to secure their borders and stop it from spreading further. More than i00 people have died in the countries where the disease has surfaced. In Nigeria, the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, said that the government had been appraised by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, and officials were trying to ensure the virus does not make a landing in Nigeria.
News of the outbreak of the disease in nearby countries is unsettling because the virus has no known cure. The chances of its victims surviving an attack are less than 10 per cent. The transmission mode is mainly through contact with affected victims or animals like bats and monkeys. Some of the high fatalities recorded in many countries occur because of the tradition of washing corpses before burial. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Ebola claims its victims within 2 weeks of infection. Its symptoms include high fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and haemorrhage. The prevalence of porous borders in Nigeria, and the probability of infected persons making it through them, should be of particular interest to health authorities.
Nigeria is currently battling to contain several deadly ailments like malaria, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and Lassa fever; it cannot afford additional health challenges such as Ebola making a presence in the country. It is reassuring that health officials reacted quickly to refute a media report about the existence of the virus in Nigeria, in which a student was described as exhibiting Ebola symptoms in Nasarawa State; but it is important that every suspicious case is thoroughly investigated and conclusively dealt with.
Since the disease is spreading within countries in the West Africa sub-region, it is essential to strictly monitor movement of people from ECOWAS states into Nigeria. Health officials at borders should be vigilant to minimize the chances of those already infected from slipping into the country. Considering the gravity of the situation, the decision by ECOWAS states to jointly tackle the Ebola outbreak in some member states is appropriate. In a communiqué at the end of their 31st meeting in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire, Ministers of the Mediation and Security Council authorized the ECOWAS Commission to collaborate with relevant health institutions in the region to mobilize stakeholders and resources to check the spread of the Ebola. The cooperation of all countries to effectively stem the further spread of the Ebola disease is critical. International institutions, such as the West African Health Organisation and WHO, should do more to provide technical support to affected countries so as to deter further spread.
For now what should be the focus in Nigeria is for the various ministries of health at the state and federal levels to sensitise the public about necessary information concerning the Ebola disease. People should be made aware of the causes, symptoms and what to do when these manifest. While animals like monkeys and bats are known to be primary carriers of the virus, it is advisable to keep away from them. People should also be wary of eating bush meat, a popular delicacy in social circles. Because the Ebola virus is highly contagious, suspicious cases should be reported to the nearest health facility so that the victim will immediately be quarantined to determine the nature of the infection. Medical facilities and personnel should be adequately prepared to cater for potential victims. The cooperation of all, including that of health-related nongovernmental organizations, is required to stop the dangerous Ebola virus from reaching the shores of Nigeria.