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Published On: Mon, Aug 18th, 2014

Ebola? Close the borders – now!!! (1)

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nigeria minister of healthBy Hannatu Musawa

Watching the news clip of the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu speaking at an interactive meeting between the Nigerian government and diplomats on measures to contain the outbreak of one of the world’s most lethal infectious diseases, I was frustrated and incensed. As the minister spoke of the processes that the government had adopted in order to contain Ebola; including, intense training and public awareness of the disease and screening of outbound passengers at the ports, he also announced that the Nigerian government had no intention of closing its borders.

The Minister stated that there was no plan for the government to, at this time, take such a measure but would not hesitate to do so when and if the need arose. In his words (I quote), “If we did close (the borders), what we have only done is to alienate the people to go underground… And if they go underground, it means that people are not on our radar… And if they are not on our radar, we are not screening them.” It was reported that the Minister then went ahead to advise the public that there was no need to use gloves… as it may further aid the spread of Ebola.

Now, call me acerbic but, after living for decades with a clear understanding of what common sense is, I am ‘not’ prepared to loose rationality to the Honorable Minister’s rhetoric when that rhetoricchallenges reason and makes absolutely no sense. I am not prepared to follow that rhetoric like a fool at logic’s expense… at least not when the subject matter is a deadly virus epidemic of a magnitude never before seen. Are you serious Mr. Honorable Minister? Are you seriously trying to say that the effect of closing the Nigerian borders will only result in people going underground and out of your radar rather than containing the virus? Are you really trying to convince the public that wearing gloves may further aid the spread of the disease?

Listening to the words of the Health Minister took me back to a speech by Guinea’s president, President Alpha Condé, in April when he appealed to his citizens for calm at the panic raised by the initial spread of the virus. “My government and I are very worried about this epidemic,” he said and he went ahead to assure Guineans that the government had taken strict precautions to avoid the further spread of the disease. Similarly, back in April, Sierra Leone’s chief medical officer, in order to calm the panic raised by Sierra Leoneans, spoke about the extensive screening processes that had been introduced in the country’s borders.

Looking back at the declaration of the Guinean and Sierra Leonean leadership about restrictions to travel and cross border exchanges, appeal for calm and assurances that every precaution to ensure that the disease stays contained had been taken by the authorities, it is safe to say that the measures they put in place weren’t altogether successful; considering the fact that the outbreak eventually found its way out of those countries and has infiltrated and alarmed a number of governments across the West African region, including Nigeria. Then there was the position taken by the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, when he was reported to have stated that an isolated case is not enough to shut the nation’s borders against its neighbors. At this stage, I’m going to have to take a break; because I’m going to need the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, to take five solid seats at the back left hand corner of the hall and the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, to take a full stadium of seats for the perilous and deficient position they have taken on this biggest threat to humanity!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but we are talking about one of the most challenging outbreaks of a deadly haemorrhagic fever, which can wipe out the whole of humanity, aren’t we? Please remind me again; the subject matter is a virus with the ability to move faster than human scientific communications and control capacities, right? Yes, that’s what I thought! Now just incase anyone missed it, the disease that both Ministers are speaking about is one that has been described as, the deadliest in recorded history. …That is what we are playing “The Sinking of the Titanic” with, Ladies and gentlemen! To get straight to the point; this issue is about death! Point, blank and period! Indeed, if this was Russian-Roulette loaded with a blank, as opposed to a real bullet, then going with the flow, in the manner we oft do in Nigeria, would be an option, despite what logic dictates. But this Ebola business is the real deal. It is not about party politics, or an insurgency by raving lunatics; it is not about ‘my interest’ against ‘your interest,’ culture religion or tribe. This issue is about a ferocious disease, of which the outcome cannot be predicted. So, by way of advise, both Minister’s, perhaps, need to fully comprehend that this is not the time for the government, for the opposition, for devil’s advocates or anyone else, for that matter, to tender only paying lip-service to such a threat from an extreme danger, the likes that we have never seen before!

I beseech thee do not get me wrong. It isn’t that one is irrationally and alarmingly trying to raise unnecessary fear or encourage the stigma of mildly sick people. My intention is not to unreasonably advocate for people to give in to panic, because that ‘would’ be counterproductive to successfully confronting the disease. I speak in this manner based on the need for us to appreciate just ‘one-single’ feature of this virus. You see the real tragedy of Ebola is that; just ‘one’ undetected infected person can provoke a global epidemic. Just one! Because of the potential of failing to detect that ‘one’ infected person, there is a need for the government to order the complete closure of all Nigerian borders; land, sea and air with immediate effect. Putting checks on all airports across the country is not good enough, not in this instance. Not if the fever of Ebola on that potential ‘one’ has not set in or reached a stage where it begins to show symptoms at the precise time that person is cleared by the very checks that have been put in place to detect the symptoms. Unless one is a bird or a mosquito, no human, dog, sheep, cattle, cat, ram, goat or horse should be allowed to come in or go out of Nigeria until the cases of Ebola within our shores have been detected and those who have come in contact with victims have been quarantined. It is advisable for us to be cautious. And while there is something known as being overly cautious, in this instance, no amount of caution can be overdone.

Initially, the spread of the current outbreak seemed to have slowed down, but has unfortunately picked up pace again in the past couple of weeks. And the reason for this is because the governments that have been fighting to keep the disease under control have failed to put adequate preventative measures in place. Nigeria should resist falling into this category. Now it is apparent that the virus is progressing faster than all the work done to try and contain it. If the condition gets any worse than it is now, the effects could become cataclysmic.

Hannatu Musawa is reachable on Twitter: @hanneymusawa

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