Winning the war against Ebola


My favourite quote from William Shakespeare, perhaps, the most inimitable writer ever is, “Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste of death but once.” This, quote from Julius Caesar, was Caesar’s response to his wife, Calpurnia, who having dreamt that the husband was murdered, advised him to stay at home on the day he was eventually killed. But Caesar, who had been a brave and strong man all his life was having none of that. It was while enlightening his wife on the pointlessness of being afraid of dying (which is unavoidable anyway) that Caesar verbalised the memorable quote.

Since the outbreak of Ebola in Nigeria, it has been very difficult for most Nigerians, including myself, to be brave. Overcoming the fear of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is proving to be even more challenging than curbing the spread of the dangerous disease brought into the country by the Liberian-American, Mr Patrick Sawyer.

Most Nigerians are now taking measures to prevent getting infected with the disease. As is common in times of desperation, while some of these measures are reasonable and appropriate, others are just plain ridiculous, amusing and condemnable.

There was the story of a lecturer in a higher institution in the Eastern part of Nigeria, who went to the lecture room, fully garbed in the typical protective clothing of Ebola health workers. There are other reported cases of even health professionals refusing to attend to patients in their health centres simply because they show symptoms related to EVD.

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The customary handshaking and other daily interactions among Nigerians are now being shunned as Nigerians have been told that the deadly virus can be spread through handshakes.

Some disingenuous Nigerians and business charlatans have also seen the Ebola outbreak as an opportunity to make ‘sharp’ money, flooding the market with all sorts of spurious products (hand sanitisers, gloves, immune boosters, etc.) claiming they help prevent EVD.

Frankly, though, the fear of Ebola is not limited to Nigerians. It is now gradually becoming not just a regional but a global threat. While African countries are taking drastic steps like closing borders, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is daily giving updates on the condition which now requires global efforts to tame.

The EVD outbreak is also affecting not just lives but also businesses. While a group of entertainers in Nigeria recently lamented about how the outbreak was affecting the entertainment sector, conferences and scheduled business events in the country and the African region are being suspended and cancelled. Even sex hawkers are reported to be cursing the virus for causing declining patronage of their business – something many however consider a positive side to the destructive pandemic.

But, light talk apart, this is indeed a trying time. The question, however, is, what should be the right response? Should we really be afraid or should we be as brave as Caesar and refuse to be intimidated by EVD and its accompanying fear? I must say yes, it is important not to give in to this paralysing fear. Although Ebola is a scary disease, our energy right now should not be dissipated on fear but rather invested in proactive measures that can really help in curbing the spread of the disease.

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While perhaps the ultimate desired solution to EVD is for the scientific world to come up with ample preventive vaccines and curative drugs, what should be the focus of all Nigerians right now is to individually take preventive measures as counselled by experts seriously. It has been said that adhering to high level of hygiene is very important at this time. Constant hand washing; using genuine hand sanitisers; avoiding contact with sick persons (especially when one is unsure of the cause of their condition); and, as much as possible, avoiding contact with dead bodies – will go a long way to help contain the disease.

The fact is that Ebola infection, according to experts, can only occur when there is an exchange of body fluid (sweat, saliva, semen or blood) with an infected person. The implication is that, since it is not airborne, the Ebola outbreak does not require undue fear but a conscious adjustment of our lifestyle to ensure it does not spread any further and thus properly curtailed until finally eradicated.