Opinion: How Nigeria has made too many errors on #Ebola

by Kingsley Ahanonu

 

Suddenly, four days after the visit of Patrick Sawyer to Lagos aboard a Liberian flight on the 20th of July and with the news of his demise at First Consultant Clinic, Obalende, Lagos, on the 24th, Nigerians began to shiver in disorientation and panic. The adrenaline in us rose; beginning from the first spot and permeating into the crannies, handshake and closeness became great omens.

The intrigues playing out since the unceremonious importation of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) by Patrick Sawyer into this country is, to say the least, disheartening.

Nigeria health officials wait to screen passengers at the arrival hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos

The incoming of the Liberian financial expert had not only caused a further implosion in the already pulverized Nigerian health. It has put more stress on the disenchanted sector and has inflicted irretrievable injuries to the Nigerian citizens.

At the moment, three Nigerians have been confirmed dead from the fatal intrusion and ten more are infected. Many more are still undergoing surveillance for possible contraction. All these innocent and unsuspecting hard-working people were at their duty posts, when the stealth came.

It is a thing of grief to remember that prior to the flight that brought in the Liberian-American expatriate, the land of Nigeria and its citizens were not allies to this antagonist. We only heard of it on the air; as a matter of fact, it is assertive to say that a lot of the masses put arguably at 90% never knew the disease not even by nomenclature. The highly contagious viral infection transmitted by mere handshake had never formed part of our known existence; right from its first incidence in 1976 (in Zaire and Sudan).

With its re-emergence earlier this year, the people still had no reason to fear; nothing of such pensiveness existed in the minds of many. Aside the security issue posed by the Boko Haram insurgency and the system ineptitude from the suffocation of corruption in high places, the citizens not lived in such a fright as hysteric.

For no reasons were Nigerians afraid to shake their compatriots; a process, which of course has become ingrained as a modus vivendi. Not even the highly feared red buffer of HIV/AIDS could severe such cherished ‘institutionalized system’. We shook hands at will and passionately encircled ourselves in warmth embrace without fear and concern.

But, alas! the hitherto doodah, though in an unfortunate manner, have now worn a ‘celebrity’ status; widely known, not only by name but in our minds and souls. We can even make a hit song of it. It has indeed become comical as this; but the ills are always things of comic!

Suddenly, four days after the visit of Patrick Sawyer to Lagos aboard a Liberian flight on the 20th of July and with the news of his demise at First Consultant Clinic, Obalende, Lagos, on the 24th, Nigerians began to shiver in disorientation and panic. The adrenaline in us rose; beginning from the first spot and permeating into the crannies, handshake and closeness became great omens.

The font was opened for rumour-peddlers to feed widely on the sagged gullibility of unsuspecting citizens. Rumours became easily accepted for fact; a holey membrane wore on Nigerians who, for the safety of their lives, were never ready to waste any second in considerations to swallow the hook, line and sinker of falsehood.

And like the wild fire of the Harmattan, the fire burned with great volatility, setting ablaze many. The knowledge about the harmful health implications identified with the ingestion of large salt-dose flew to the winds; people out of jolt, gulped immeasurably the solution to sad discomfort and death!

Even as the masses realized quickly the ministry of ‘salt and water bath’ and sadly paid some price, it never ended there. The fright was never to leave, our adrenaline lingered than ever. And these are all post-Sawyer consequences; the results of his heinous importation.

However, what begs for explanations are the intricacies that surrounded his leaving Liberia and dying in Lagos. These questions which have won emphasis following the existing atmosphere beg emotionally and rationally for answers.

It was learnt that the viral importer had been handed over to the health personnel in Liberia for isolation after the news of his sister’s death from the virus dread by the company he worked for. He was subsequently kept under surveillance.

It was also gathered that, in an official capacity, the Finance Ministry of Liberia under which the ‘death-porter’ worked, probably unknown of his state, called on him to represent them at the ECOWAS conference in Calabar, Nigeria. Mr. Sawyer defied the quarantine restriction and embarked on that mission, which, unfortunately, was to be his last.  

From claimed CCTV footage, Mr. Patrick was nice enough to ‘avoid contact with unsuspecting individuals, even at greetings’. Nevertheless, one thing that beats the mind is how this ‘nice’ man could have neglected this same gentlemanly mien ab initio by informing his bosses of the state he was. Or did he but was compelled? This really comes up going by the later revelation of First Consultant Clinic that even at the treatment of their patient, the Liberian Finance Ministry officials kept pressuring them to release him for the conference.

Howbeit, even under such acclaimed compulsion, couldn’t Mr. Sawyer have been more nice and save his potential contacts the lots of stress in defying this ‘inane ministerial order’ instead? Should we assume a case of dual conspiracies?

Back to the internal milieu. The question that bogs is the measures, in proactive step, put in place since the news of the resurgence of the Ebola disease to prevent a possible implosion.

The outbreak of the supposed zoonotic ailment in Guinea, Sierra Leone and our close neighbour, Liberia has been a worldwide concern since March of this year. What has the entire Nigeria systems on disease control and prevention being doing ever since to safeguard the citizens?

Why must it be when the system has become drenched that the Nigerian institutions, herein to include the Federal Ministry of Health, Centre for Disease Control and the Airport authorities start calling for shelters?

The minister of health in one of his numerous post-drench briefings on the wake of the intrusion had indicated that mechanisms were on ground in our air terminals since the news of the outbreak to avert possible encroachment. It was actually, according to him, the process that led to the identification of the Sawyer case.

Good as it may be if what Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu said is anything to go by. But why did the action, proactive, have to stop at the airport? How did the Ebola Virus Disease slipped away from this commendable security measure to come in and comfortably sit down in our midst?

Patrick Sawyer, even as erroneous his act might have been, did not come into the country by astral means; he came through a physical route, the Lagos international airport. As such, the Nigerian authorities are not left out in some pertinent questions, of which include:

1. What effort did the personnel stationed thereto took to notify the health providers at First Consultant that he was an EVD suspect?

2. The airport men, did they not know that Mr Sawyer was coming from Liberia as to make such notification, preponderant?

3. Or did they not know that Liberia is an Ebola-having country as to designate anybody from there a suspect?

Some mistakes were better avoided. And this one stands prominently. The Liberian government and our internal health sector and its authority should be held culpable for exposing innocent and unsuspecting Nigerians to these unnecessary risks. However, as a Nigerian, I demand for accountability and responsibility from the Nigerian institutions.

 

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

 

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