Ever since Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian diplomat, imported the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) into the country on July 20, the consciousness of most Nigerians has been awakened to the importance of personal hygiene especially regular hand washing, which many had hitherto relegated to the background.
Today, hand sanitisers are now a common sight across the country, as many people now carry them around ever since the outbreak of the disease.
Even in banking halls and other public places, bottles of hand sanitiser are placed on counters and other strategic places for the use of employees and customers. This is because, to some observers, an Ebola infection is a distant threat, while others insist that necessary measures ought to be put in place to protect people from contracting the disease.
To this end, as a protective measure, some people now avoid handshakes for fear of contracting the disease, while others have spent a lot of money on buying hand sanitisers – products that were little known previously.
However, experts insist that a major aspect of efforts to prevent the virus from further spread entails the adoption of proper hygiene and good sanitation.
They say that the display of good hygienic practices in everyday living plays an important role in promoting healthy lifestyles and curbing the multiplication of diseases.
The Programme Manager, Society for Water and Sanitation, Mr. David Akuta, said that the use of hand sanitiser was just a stop-gap measure, insisting that hand washing with soap and water was the best approach to personal hygiene.
“Since water is not always at our disposal, one could use hand sanitisers; but the best advice is to use soap and water as soon as possible.
“Hand sanitisers kill germs and bacteria but Ebola is a virus which could be killed by through hand washing with soap under running water.
“Fifty per cent of the hospital beds would be free if Nigerians adopt hand washing as a daily lifestyle and jettison the erroneous belief that `Dirti (dirt) no dey kill African man,’’ he added.
Interestingly, the growing acceptance of hand sanitisers in the country has somewhat affected the price and availability of the item in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the country at large.
A sales girl at Total Trust Supermarket, Karu, Joy Udi, said that business has been quite good with regard to the sale of hand sanitisers, with over 400 bottles sold each day.
According to her, formerly, they were selling a 50ml. bottle of hand sanitiser for just N300, but with the increase in demand, it now goes now for N700.
“However, it is not our fault because the wholesale price of the product has also increased.
“Business has been very good; we hope that after the end of the Ebola crisis, people will continue to use hand sanitiser because it is very effective,’’ she added.
Similarly, a businesswoman, Patience Omorede, says: “Since this Ebola issue started, I go everywhere with my hand sanitiser because I learnt that once you touch anything or anybody and you rub it on your palms, it would prevent you from contracting the ailment.’’
“I do not want to take any chances at all because this Ebola thing is very deadly.
“Now, I am very conscious of whom I touch or go close to and it would take me nothing to rub the sanitiser on my hands; so, I carry it everywhere I go,’’ a student of Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Samuel Owoyemi, said.
Nevertheless, medical practitioners underscore the need for all Nigerians to be involved in efforts to tackle the Ebola crisis.
A medical doctor in Kelina Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Lamidi Adebayo, stressed the need to promote personal hygiene as part of efforts toward living healthy lifestyles.
He emphasised that people should adopt hand washing and other hygienic practices, while keeping their immediate surroundings clean.
“If a food vendor, who is an acute carrier of salmonella typhi (the bacteria that causes typhoid), goes to the toilet without washing his hands and serves customers, the food could get contaminated.
“This singular act of indiscipline could cause hundreds of his customers on that day to get infected with typhoid.
“The same applies to someone who is a carrier of any other disease that could be transmitted through body fluids.
“Before, we could touch a patient with our bare hands when doing minor checks but now, every case is treated as a risk case and no matter how trivial, we would use disposable gloves.
“Our hospital has also educated our cleaners on how to take extra precautions while doing their jobs such as changing bed linen and every other aspect of cleaning,’’ Adebayo said.
Observers, nonetheless, note that prior to the Ebola crisis, people could not pass through the ever-busy Wuse Market in Abuja, without being harassed and dragged by traders seeking patronage.
They add that nowadays, traders in the market no longer touch customers but solicit patronage only via verbal expressions.
On his part, Chinedu Okpara, who deals in shoes in the market, said that he no longer held or dragged anybody to come to his shop because no one could easily recognise someone who was afflicted with the virus.
“In the past, we used to run after customers, holding or pulling them; but since we heard of this Ebola, we have stopped that habit because we have been told that one could contract the disease by merely touching an infected person,’’ he said.
Buttressing Okpara’s argument, Mabel Omede, a regular customer at the market, said that the outbreak of Ebola virus had somewhat taught the traders about how to be more civil in their interactions with customers.
“Before now, when you come to this market, sellers would be practically dragging you up and down just to seek your attention. I almost fought with one of them on an occasion.
“Now, I can walk freely in the market without being harassed. I hope it continues like this because this is how it is supposed to be in every civilised society,’’ Omede said.
All the same, observers pray that the disease will soon be a thing of the past, so that normal life can resume in the country.
They, nonetheless, urge the citizens to sustain the current trend of proper hygiene practices, while stressing the need for the government to put in place proactive disease control strategies.