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Published On: Thu, Aug 14th, 2014

Assessing efforts of government towards curbing spread of Ebola

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Ebola-VirusBy Evelyn Okakwu and Ese Awhotu

Since the discovery of Ebola in Nigeria, through the late Patrick Sawyer, who came into the country from Liberia with the disease, so much has been said about the deadly diseases and its effects if it spreads across the country. A couple of days back, Nigerians exhibited their degree of confusion about the pandemic when rumours about a cure through the use of salt and warm water dominated the news all over the country, with the social media playing a key role in misleading a people already on the verge of confusion.

The Nigerian government has since drafted a committee to look into the problem, with the President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, declaring a national emergency on the disease (following the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, WHO) and approving the sum of N1.9 billion special intervention fund to tackle the growing challenges emanating from the outbreak.

Also the international community has played its role in the effort to deal with what has variously been described as the world’s deadliest disease in recent times.

According to WHO “The Ebola outbreak in West Africa constitutes an ‘extraordinary event’ and a public health risk to other States”.

“The current EVD outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013. This outbreak now involves transmission in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. As of August 2014, the above named countries have reported 1 711 cases.

1 070 of which were confirmed, 436 probable, and 205 cases regarded as suspect”. This number, WHO further says include 932 deaths, noting that this is currently the largest EVD outbreak ever recorded.” The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries.

A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola.”

While this is true, an equally coordinated response would be necessary to avert the national spread of the disease in Nigeria.

If the actions of Nigerians last Friday, across the country is any thing to go by, one thing is certainly derivable-that a hand full of Nigerians are relatively ignorant about the prose and cones of maintaining a healthy condition in the face of such a deadly pandemic.

What’s more, the chairman, association of Medical Laboratory scientists of Nigeria, Dr, Casmir Ifeanyi has stated that the country is not yet ready to face the wide spread of Ebola, should such become the case, in the country. According to him, the way to containing any disease, globally is through preventive health care which can only be achieved through an authenticated Laboratory based surveillance. A situation which he says is still lacking in the country.

“We need to begin to build capacity of health care professionals, particularly, medical laboratory personnel. Diagnoses and surveillance are all laboratory issues and this is key in dealing with the issue of Ebola”.

As noted by the chairman the current industrial action embarked upon by the Nigerian Medical Association has not in any way helped the fight to rid the country of the wide spread of Ebola.

More so, the discord among medical practitioner, who have variously fed the public with contrasting information of the state of the industrial action has only aggravated the fears of Nigerians further on the possibilities of winning the fight against the deadly Ebola Virus

Other challenges noted by WHO, as regards the virus in West Africa were explained thus; “In light of States Parties’ presentations and subsequent Committee discussions, several challenges were noted for the affected countries: These challenges include:

Their health systems are fragile with significant deficits in human, financial and material resources, resulting in compromised ability to mount an adequate Ebola outbreak control response;

Inexperience in dealing with Ebola outbreaks; misperceptions of the disease, including how the disease is transmitted, are common and continue to be a major challenge in some communities;

High mobility of populations and several instances of cross-border movement of travelers with infection;

Several generations of transmission have occurred in the three capital cities of Conakry (Guinea); Monrovia (Liberia); and Freetown (Sierra Leone); and a high number of infections have been identified among health-care workers, highlighting inadequate infection control practices in many facilities”.

Fortunately for us in Nigeria, such a spread has not been recorded. Both stake holders and some Nigerians have said that the effort of government towards curtailing the spread of the disease among health practitioners has been quite commendable.

Yet, as aptly noted by the Dr Ifeanyi; “The way to containing any global disease, pragmatically is through preventive health care system”; which implies the introduction of vaccines along with the acceptable cure for the said disease.

Fortunately, a recent report has revealed the existence of drugs capable of curing the deadly Ebola Virus. The drugs which are produced by Tekmira pharmaceuticals, known as Tekmira from the United States, and a similar drug, called Favipiravir; an influenza tablet created by a Fuji Films subsidiary, Toyoma Chemicals-co in Japan, are still been scrutinised for global acceptance by stake holder organisations.

However, the discovery of a vaccine to accelerate the final elimination of this dreaded disease is still far from reach. Also the inability of the Nigerian government to close borders has not been without its attending pros and cones.

More so, the response of some Nigerians to the popular call to avoid some factors that could lead to the spread of the disease has not been quite encouraging.

In this discussion with Nigerians they share their opinion on the call to desist from eating or hunting bush meat. Mrs Susan Urhomi had this to say: “I and my family have been eating bush meet for as long as I can remember. I can count the number of times I have had to buy meat from the market, because my husband always travels and brings home bush meat of different types and sizes which goes a long way to help in saving our money for buying meat. My husband gets bush meat practically free from his friends and relatives.

My people in the village depend on that a lot for livelihood. How can they just decide to stop eating and even hunting bush meat, even when they have no other source of livelihood?

Also a man who refused to mention his name had this to say about the need to wash hands often after returning from any place. “I do not exactly see how washing your hands can save people if not for God’s intervention because the body operates a very reflex system. You cannot ask the hand not to go to the skin, in the event of a scratch, what happens in such a case when the hand is already infected. And how do you tell exactly when one’s hand has been infected or not? So the bottom line is that something should be done to independently curtail the spread of this disease, especially in Nigeria, because take it or leave it, we are very hospitable in Nigeria, we have a culture that naturally encourages mingling with each other in various ways, including through the use of bodily contacts, that are moral and equally warm”.

It has been stated that the Ebola Virus can only be contacted when there is a contact with a sick person from the disease. But from the survey conducted during this report, it was discovered that not so many Nigerians are aware of this fact. Also the BBC rightly says concerning the fears created about this disease that; “People are frightened for two reasons. First and most importantly, because there’s no known vaccine, no cure (except recently); second, because of the ghastly physical reality of the disease, as portrayed in those lurid posters”

What this means is that while these drugs for the cure could be described as a welcomed development, there is the need for the stakeholders involved, to work with the media in ensuring that people become less frightened and more informed on how to manage the situation.

 

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