We have managed to push the killer Ebola virus disease (EVD) out. This is big good news. The virus was ‘imported’ to Nigeria by a Liberian-America in July. He took ill at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos and died in hospital few days later. Panic spread throughout the country, but three months later, hysteria has given way to a sense of relief and optimism.
World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative in Nigeria, Dr. Riu Gama Vaz, broke the news that Nigeria was Ebola-free on October 20 in Abuja. He declared, “Today, October 20, 42 days, means twice the incubation period, after the last confirmed case of the Ebola virus disease was discharged from the isolation ward, having tested negative for the Ebola virus, the chain of transmission has been broken… WHO officially declares that Nigeria is now free of the Ebola virus; the virus is gone for now, the outbreak in Nigeria has been defeated. This is a spectacular success story that shows to the world that Ebola can be contained.”
He commended Nigerian authorities and frontline workers for their efforts and commitment in the containment of the virus in Lagos and Port Harcourt. The Nigerian success story is all the more spectacular because the virus hit the country at a time when doctors in public hospitals were on a nationwide strike over poor remuneration and collapsing health infrastructure. It is also a big tribute to those doctors and nurses who gave their lives to contain the virus. We salute their courage, selflessness and patriotism.
However, as we celebrate this huge success, we’ll do well to not lapse into complacency. As Dr. Vaz warned, Nigeria is not completely free because a number of sister West African countries are “still struggling with the virus.”His advice:”We need to continue sharing the Nigerian experience and the country’s expertise to help other countries to urgently contain the Ebola epidemic and supporting others in the preparedness and response plan “. As a first step, Nigeria is sending 250 health experts to Sierra Leone and Liberia which between account for the over 4,000 reported Ebola cases in the sub-region.
Back here at home, what Dr. Vaz describes as “Nigeria’s unique style and strategy” in containing the spread of the disease beyond Lagos and Port Harcourt must be sustained. Here the words of the project director of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Professor Abdulsalam Nasidi, are appropriate. “Nigeria cannot afford to drop its guards on Ebola virus, but must be at alert all the time to be able to respond to any new cases”.
Secondly, Ebola is out of the way, but our 200 plus schoolgirls are still in captivity, held by Boko Haram insurgents since April this year. The cheer that the federal government’s announcement that it has reached a truce with the sect that would lead to the release of the girls turned to grief when its leader announced in a video clip that they had been married off. He also denied there was ever a ceasefire agreement between his group and the government.