Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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In just relatively few years, Nigerians have had to contend with three strange and dreaded diseases. So much so that they appear to have eclipsed the once feared HIV/AIDS. HIV AIDS no longer holds same dread as these new entrants. It appears the world has finally got around it and now it is less talked about. When the HIV/AIDS disease was first reported in Nigeria, only the medics really believed it. The majority of Nigerians were skeptical of its veracity because they hardly saw a victim so to speak. Soon the afflicted were no longer a rarity or ‘ghosts’ but were actually seen in flesh and blood in hospitals and in neighborhoods. People began to talk about it not in whispers anymore but freely. The death of afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti allegedly from the disease, put any doubts about its existence and dreadfulness out of the window.
People then began to seriously abide by advice on how to prevent it, particularly on use of condoms. Luckily the United states and other western countries invested heavily on research/medication for HIV/AIDS. They donated testing kits, medications and even condoms to many countries, including Nigeria. Condoms were even distributed at HIV/AIDS gatherings. They became very cheap, affordable by all while protestations of ultra conservatives that this could promote promiscuity were drowned by the argument about the urgent need to curtail further spread of the disease which was reaching pandemic levels. It was seen as a scourge of humanity. In fact some believed that the AIDs pandemic was a punishment from Above for the world’s wayward ways. Truth is that the Almighty does not punish as such, humanity brings about evil on itself when it disobey the Laws of God, the Laws of Nature… Well, it appears the world has been able to rally round and checkmate the HIV/AIDS disease somehow.
Enter Ebola virus disease. This was another dreaded ailment in that it had no cure. Ebola sounds like an African name which indeed gives an indication of its origin. It originated in Congo, East Africa. But some years ago, it resurfaced in West Africa, notably Sierra Leone and Liberia, killing thousands of people. In certain instances whole families were wiped out by it. What makes Ebola like the current Corona virus dangerous is that it can be spread by air (Sneezing and coughing by victim) as well as any form of contact with the infected. Thus it can easily engulf several persons, posing a big challenge for affected countries with weak containment facilities/medical institutions, not least in a largely uneducated community. Even more dangerous is that the victims appear physically well initially and only begin to show symptoms of the disease after some days. Liberia and Sierra Leone ravaged by Ebola became a killing field of some sort. Funeral obsequies and mass burials by medics became the order of the day. Nigeria should be very grateful to Dr. Stella Adadevoh who quickly got the Liberian, Dr. Sawyerr, that came to Nigeria with the disease quarantined upon noticing that he was infected. All those that had contact with him were quickly traced and isolated, including Dr. Adadevoh herself who later died. If she had succumbed to the Liberian’s request to be released from his hospital bed to go attend an ECOWAS conference for which he came to Nigeria, many Nigerians may not have lived to tell the story as far more people would have been infected and killed by it.
Outbreak of current Corona virus now ravaging the world should make our government better appreciate the sacrifice of Dr. Adadavoh. For, it was her alarm that gingered federal and state governments to put in place necessary measures for containing such viral diseases; measures and experiences that have now come in handy in handling the Italian that came to Lagos/Ogun with the disease.
However, the Ebola scare in Nigeria was not without a comic aspect albeit sad commentary, such as people avoiding handshakes with even their bosom friends; so much so that even the administering of ‘holy communion’ in churches was done with no contact between the priest and the recipient. Being Africans who are a largely superstitious people, the news went viral (without any scientific or logical reasoning) that bathing with salt could protect one from catching the disease. And so, many, many people woke up in the middle of the night to bathe with salt mixture. Expectedly, the price of salt increased. And because Ebola is exclusive to Africa, many Africans believed it was a curse from the gods. I have already dismissed this viewpoint. It is true that the disease is more or less exclusive to Africa because the only people who contracted it outside the continent were, as in the United states, medical volunteers that returned from West Africa. I believe that it was because Ebola was largely confined to African soil that finding a cure for it has been rather slow. Some drugs are being developed but none has been approved by the appropriate scientific/regulatory bodies for marketing.
It is noteworthy that corona virus that is getting the world’s attention now started off from China; a country with the world’s largest population which also ranks among the world’s largest economy. This could have ramifications for global economy, particularly for developing countries like Nigeria that are dependent on China for most of their imports. Some 60 countries are said to be affected with over 3000 deaths. Scotland is the latest country to be hit by the Corona virus. The Chinese town from where it emanated was on lockdown with everybody staying indoors. In European countries such as Italy that are batting with it, sporting events have had to be postponed or played behind closed door doors– without fans/audience. People are being advised to avoid large gatherings as well as adhere to personal and environmental hygiene.
Also noteworthy is that the virus is receiving highest level attention among industrialized nations generally. For example, the US President, personally addressed his people on the matter and has nominated the vice president to chair a committee to monitor the disease in the USA. The committee is of course made up of various experts. Scientists are literally racing against time to find a solution for corona virus. With rich countries affected and involved, a cure would surely come sooner than later. If only these rich nations could equally expend such energy, time and money on finding a cure for diseases that black people have been battling with for ages (which affects only the black race) such as sickle cell or latter day ones like Lasa fever. Our world would be a happier place.