- Nigeria must avert a possible outbreak
As the world steels itself for another onslaught of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), Nigeria’s Senate has done well to urge the striking Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) to end its strike and advise the Federal Government to step up preparations to confront a possible outbreak in the country.
For a nation that fought off EVD so heroically in 2014, the seeming indifference that has characterised most responses to its current re-emergence in Congo is surprising. Until Senator Remi Tinubu raised the matter on the Senate floor, there had been very little official reaction to the spectre of another EVD outbreak. Neither the Federal Ministry of Health nor the Ministry of Internal Affairs appears to be doing enough to avert the looming danger.
This is clearly not the right attitude to adopt. In Congo, there have been 39 infections and 19 deaths attributable to EVD since April. The disease has spread from Bikoro in the country’s north-west to the busy port city of Mbandaka, exponentially increasing its capacity to spread to other parts of Congo and Africa. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has steadily raised its Ebola risk in response to the evolving situation and placed 10 nations in the region on high alert.
As the agglomeration of unions representing all medical workers in Nigeria except doctors, JOHESU is critically important to the success of any anti-EVD campaign. Along with the doctors, they are at the frontline of the war against Ebola, and their skills, know-how and courage are as vital now as they were when Nigeria conquered the disease in 2014.
The ongoing strike significantly weakens the country’s capacity to combat EVD if it appears within its borders. It means that the bulk of health workers, laboratory scientists, nurses and other medical professionals whose contributions will be vital in identifying the disease, tracking its spread, isolating infected citizens and curing it will not be in action. While the doctors will be available, their efforts will be severely limited without these other medical workers.
JOHESU has made its point. It must now seek to be patriotic and professional by calling off its industrial action, trusting that the Federal Government will address its legitimate complaints, especially now that the national budget has been passed.
The Senate’s advice to the Federal Government is also timely. The Buhari administration must make an effort to treat the possibility of an EVD outbreak with the seriousness that it deserves. Fortunately, it has the magnificent example of 2014 to draw upon, particularly the prodigious efforts of the Fashola-led administration in Lagos State.
A comprehensive public enlightenment campaign was developed, including daily briefings by relevant officials, publicity campaigns in various languages, detailed instructions on personal sanitation, EVD symptoms and numbers to call in the event of emergencies. Isolation centres were developed, contacts were strengthened with laboratories capable of diagnosing EVD, and fake cures were vigorously denounced.
State governments must also ensure that they gear up their preparations to combat the possible outbreak of EVD. It is particularly important that those states which have witnessed communal disturbances develop strategies to integrate the anti-EVD campaign into their rehabilitation efforts.
Close contact must be maintained with the WHO and other multilateral agencies and non-governmental organisations. Their advice and support will be vital to ensuring that EVD is fought with the determination and sophistication that is required.
Ultimately, Nigeria must comprehensively re-tool its social infrastructure to make it less vulnerable to disease outbreaks. Its hospitals must be better able to identify and treat infection, potable water must be made more widely available, and sanitary standards must be more strictly enforced. Medical professionals should be properly remunerated. Health is wealth.