Ebola: Lest we are caught slumbering again
On 22 July, the World Health Organisation published its latest Ebola Situation Report which confirmed 26 new cases of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). Twenty-two of the new cases were from Guinea, while four were from Sierra Leone. This calls for serious concern and caution.
According to the WHO report, while there are indications of continued improvements in contact tracing and case investigation, the latest WHO EVD incidence figure is the highest proportion of cases to arise among contact since the beginning of the outbreak. This is a clear indication that the EVD outbreak is not over yet.
The United Nations (UN) Mission for Ebola Emergency Response as reported by CNN online while reporting the latest incidence of EVD in Guinea and Sierra Leone also warned that “The Ebola outbreak is not over and the response efforts must be sustained until we get to zero cases throughout the region and are able to stay at zero for several months.”
What is worrisome about the new outbreak in Guinea and Sierra Leone is the possibility of a resurgence of Ebola in other African countries. Nigeria, in particular, must be on the alert to prevent another incursion of the disease and the potentially devastating effects on our socio-economic life.
It would be recalled that the WHO had declared Nigeria free of EVD on 20 October, 2014. The disease had been introduced into the country by an American-Liberian man, Mr Patrick Sawyer, before it was evetually contained. Before its containment, however, the virus had ravaged the country for about three months, leaving in its wake, tales of sorrow and tears.
While the disease raged in the country, a total of 19 cases were confirmed, all eventually linked to the confirmed index case of Patrick Sawyer. Out of these 19, seven people died while 12 survived.
However, beyond the number of people that eventually died from the infection, EVD outbreak in Nigeria had a huge impact on virtually all sectors of the nation’s economy and national life. It was, indeed, a traumatic period for the nation.
These grim recollections must rouse Nigeria to utmost vigilance, as efforts are being made to contain the new cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone. The WHO warning that the Ebola outbreak is not over in the African continent must be taken seriously in all ramifications. Nigeria, like other African countries, is still vulnerable to another imported case of EVD as long as the disease is still being transmitted in other parts of West Africa.
Ordinarily, the surveillance system that had served the nation so well in its trying period of EVD battle should have been integrated into our health system in such a way that we do not resort to panic measures whenever we hear of new EVD cases from other African countries. However, since Nigerians are not known to be consistently proactive in such matters, we call on the federal government to lead the way in urgently reactivating standard precautionary measures to ensure there is no resurgence of the disease in the country. Proper screening of passengers entering the country though the various entry points is essential.
One would expect that, having once had a terrible experience from the outbreak of the EVD, Nigeria, by now, should have developed a national preparedness and response plan that should be well known to all citizens and should leave no one in doubt of what to do at any point in time. Also, simple but effective precautionary measures of regular hand-washing in schools and public places should have become normal by all Nigerians – just as one would expect that adequate precautions for caregivers who are quite vulnerable should by now be part of our daily culture. Sadly, however, since Nigeria was declared by WHO as Ebola free, we have abandoned all the precautionary measures that served us so well.
While we encourage the Nigerian government to continue to support efforts in clinical research aimed at finding a potent vaccine and, ultimately, an effective drug for EVD, we urge that more concerted efforts should be devoted to preventive measures against this deadly disease. Nigeria should know that, in EVD more than any other disease, prevention is by far better and cheaper than cure.