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Published On: Wed, Oct 15th, 2014

Before Ebola returns, what we must do

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By Ngozi Musa

Now that ebola has spread to advanced countries like the United States of America, and Spain, and despite the good news that Nigeria is now ebola free and the praise accorded her by the international community for her quick response to the virus, what lessons can be learnt from the ordeal? What did we do wrong? And how vigilant should we be to ensure ebola does not return to Nigeria?

Once the news broke that ebola was in West Africa, we should have been proactive in our response. Knowing that Nigeria is a country of travellers, and the commercial capital of West Africa, non-contact thermometers should have been made available at our airports and borders. This would have detected Patrick Sawyer-the index case.Had he escaped that, immediately he collapsed at the airport, barrier health management/medicine would have been introduced to contain the situation there and then. The airport officials would have been trained on how to manage such occurrences.

Had Mr. Sawyer somehow escaped scrutiny at the airport, he would have been found out at the hospital. This is because subsidized test kits would have been made available to laboratories and hospitals all over Nigeria before the arrival of the virus in Nigeria. And medical personnel would have been trained and well equipped on how to deal with the situation. All those hospital workers will still be alive if these had been done.Also, we should be grateful for little mercies because the virus arrived in Nigeria through Lagos. This is because, with the large number of media outlets in Lagos, it is arguably more informed than other states of the federation. A case in point is the doctor that died in Port-Harcourt after contracting the disease from a patient perhaps, not knowing that he was treating an ebola patient.

Information is key in these trying times. Nobody can afford to be uninformed. It may be the death of such a person. All the ways of disseminating information should have been employed to ensure every part of Nigeria is well informed. Even the delay of school resumption because teachers have not been trained to handle the situation would have been unnecessary if such steps had been taken on time.

How do we avoid a re-occurrence? It is very important that preventive measures should be immediately be put in place to prevent the virus from slipping into Nigeria a second time. We should urgently enact laws that stipulate actions to be taken in an emergency such as the ebola crisis. These laws would authorize the arrest and detention in hospital of all suspected cases of those with infectious deadly diseases until they are cured or cleared, etc. Those laws would have stipulated that anyone who refuses to co-operate would have his photograph published for the public to avoid being infected by such a person. That person would also have been prosecuted. Had we had such laws, the ECOWAS official that travelled to Port Harcourt with the disease would have been prevented from doing so or the public would have avoided him.

The National Assembly should quickly pass the Nigeria Public Health (Quarantine, Isolation and Emergency Health Matters Procedure) Bill to repeal the Quarantine Act of 1926. The new bill, though a good first step is in itself even inadequate to address the current ebola complexities. In addition, test kits for testing ebola should be distributed to medical laboratories in every local government in Nigeria.In conclusion, to prevent a situation where we would be crying over spilt milk, preventive measures to tackle emergencies should always be put in place, long before the arrival of deadly diseases.

Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Musa, an optometrist and public health expert sent her piece from Lagos where she lives and practices.


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