When the Ebola epidemic hit some neighbouring countries, former minister of state for health Dr Muhammad Pate blurted that it would never come to Nigeria. In recent times, Ebola has been ravaging most of the West Africa sub-region and the World Health Organisation (WHO) says the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa “shows a mixed picture”. WHO reports that there have been 844 cases, including 518 deaths, in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as of July 6. As the WHO statement suggests, the growing number of cases in these countries means that there is still a problem with active viral transmission. With their countries facing an Ebola epidemic, the health ministers of 11 neighbouring nations met in Accra last week to streamline a joint strategy to stem Ebola’s deadly advance. Nigeria was not part of the summit, but the country can ill-afford to be indifferent to a “sub-regional control centre”.
Nigeria should take a pro-active stand by coordinating the response mechanism to a deadly disease like Ebola. This is more so with signs that traces of the scourge are at our doorsteps. It is better to step up surveillance and sensitization machinery by not just wishing Ebola away or calling reported cases by other benign nomenclatures like “haemorrhagic fever”, as in a reported case a couple of months ago. WHO has said that 759 confirmed or suspected cases of the haemorrhagic fever in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone reported last week killed like Ebola. The jump in cases is due to reclassification, retrospective investigation, and consolidation of cases”, said Fadela Chaib, a spokeswoman for the WHO.
We are worried. The minister of health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, and the Nigerian Centre for Diseases Control should, rather than repudiate cases, understand that the disease is not a respecter of borders. Ebola is a reality in many West African countries and the eerie manifestations of the disease should make the leaders feel concerned. We must go into a season of enlightenment and solution-seeking straightaway. We should be worried because, once a patient is infected with Ebola, the incubation period is four to 16 days. The onset of the disease is sudden, with fever, chills, headache, anorexia, and muscle pain. As the disease progresses, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, stomach pain, and diarrhea are common. Most patients develop severe haemorrhages, usually between Day 5 and 7. Bleeding occurs from multiple sites, including the digestive tract, lungs and gums. Death occurs within seven to 16 days. WHO warns that the virus is contagious and has a fatality rate of up to 90 per cent. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and fruit bats. It spreads in the human population through person-to-person transmission. Hospitals and inadvertent laboratory exposures are also its conduits. These are issues that should guide discourse on the disease to prevent an epidemic. Ebola virus has no known treatment or vaccine. The challenge is to control and be alert to all likely sources.
We need to criminalize non-vaccination of domestic animals susceptible to the virus as carriers. Our local health inspectors and the state government must be alert, while our tertiary health facilities should be adequately equipped to deal with the threat, in case something untoward happens.