The Ebola Virus Disease is a threat to mankind and must be seen and tackled as such. Since it has found a foothold in Nigeria and three other West African countries, the continent must accept the challenge to fight and defeat it.
The reaction of the Federal Government to this medical emergency is in order. A visibly upset President Goodluck Jonathan strongly condemned the placing of the lives of Nigerians at risk by the Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer, who brought the virus to the country.
The President has met with state governors to get everyone on the same page on this health crisis, and subsequently allocated N1.9 billion as initial down payment to fight the disease. The Federal Government has also been discussing with the governments of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, on how to contain the disease. Nigeria, in a ringing demonstration of leadership, donated N35 million to help the three countries, and to aid the work of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the pandemic.
The world is virtually in a panic mode over this disease for obvious reasons. It has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa. It has no cure. It kills between 25 and 90 per cent of the people who contract it. The drugs targeting it are still in their preliminary stages of development. The world’s desperation, however, is such that even the WHO took the unprecedented decision to approve the use of untested drugs, even as it warned that “it is important to not give false hope to anybody that Ebola can be treated now.”
The effort to limit the spread of this virus in the country is impressive. We commend the Lagos State Government, which has now placed more than 200 persons who had primary or secondary contact with the victims, under observation. It also went further to invoke its 2003 Public Health Law to enable it “apprehend any suspect of Ebola who declines to surrender for screening or isolation.”
That the Ebola containment dragnet was spread to Enugu State to locate and bring back to Lagos a nurse who had contact with the Liberian index victim shows the determination of health authorities to do everything possible to limit the spread of the disease and stamp it out in the long run.
We are encouraged by the level of public enlightenment and health precautions being prescribed and propagated all over the country. We think the government should do more through the media, especially radio and newspapers, which had proved quite effective in the past. It should also spread the word through thousands of health centres spread across all the local government councils in the country.
The four testing centres announced by the government – two in Abuja and one each in Lagos and Ibadan ¬– are inadequate, taking into consideration that delay is dangerous where Ebola is concerned. The Lagos State Government has confirmed that early diagnosis is crucial to survivability. In addition to the 490 health staff the Federal Government has newly approved for our border posts, there should be at least one test centre at all the major entry points into the country.
The Federal Government, through its agencies and spokesmen, must constantly remind Nigerians that the WHO has stated that 60 per cent of Ebola virus transmissions take place during burials. It is right, therefore, that the government has banned the transportation of corpses over long distances. The parts of the country where elaborate burial rites are practised must be persuaded to keep the custom in abeyance until this virulent storm passes over.
It is gratifying to note the cooperation of faith healers on the struggle with Ebola. All hands must be on deck to sanitise hands, peel fruits and ensure that there is no contact with the body fluids of infected persons through coughing, sneezing or sweating, knowing that the virus spreads through these.
The only way forward is for the world to act in concert. The virus must be defeated. A cure must be found. The history of this virus began in Africa and it is named after the Ebola River, which runs through the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is therefore, first and foremost, a challenge to African scientists. It is a shame that since 1976 when the virus was first defined, not much effort has been made to get a certified cure for it.
Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, a Canadian drug maker contracted by the US Food and Drug Administration, is researching and seems to have made progress on how to target the genetic material of the virus. The efforts of the manufacturer of Zmapp, on the other hand, are geared towards boosting the immune system of afflicted persons to fight off the virus.
It is our hope that President Jonathan’s appointed research team will build on what these two organisations have done and develop a cure for the deadly disease.