Ahead of the coming African/American Leaders Summit billed for Monday in Washington DC, United States, President Barack Obama, has said some African participants attending will be screened for exposure to the dreaded Ebola virus.
President Goodluck Jonathan along with his aides is among the African leaders expected to attend the event. According to a Reuters report, Obama explained on Friday that the action would be taken to protect the US from the outbreak of the disease. He said, “Folks who are from these countries that have even a marginal risk, or an infinitesimal risk of having been exposed in some fashion, we’re making sure we’re doing screening.”
The United States, Obama said, takes risks from the deadly Ebola virus very seriously hence the planned test for the expected African leaders.
Also, two African leaders have said that they would not attend the meeting because of the outbreak of the Ebola disease in their countries. The leaders are the presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone, Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Ernest BaiKoroma, respectively.
Meanwhile, professional health bodies and medical experts have condemned Nigeria’s response to the global outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease. They strongly condemned what they described as poor preventive measures put in place by the Federal Government.
Nigeria has recorded the death of an Ebola victim, Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian, who flew into the country on July 20.
The deceased collapsed on his arrival in Lagos and was rushed to hospital where he was diagnosed with EVD. He later died on July 25.
Ebola, which has killed scores in Guinea, Gambia and Sierra Leone and Liberia, is an acute viral illness and often characterised by fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat.
These are followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
A virologist and President, Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Oyewole Tomori, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, decried that the porous nature of Nigerian hospitals would allow the disease to spread easily between patients and health workers.
He said, “In an ideal situation, there is no need to close the border. As a matter of fact, there are too many entry points into the country. How many of these can be closed? But beyond closing the borders is the actual state of preparedness. The truth of the matter is we’re not prepared.
“Also, the government needs to collaborate with private medical laboratory facilities. Testing for the Ebola Virus Disease isn’t something that can be done in a moment. It takes time. The Federal Ministry of Health should now be asking laboratory facilities what they have and what they need, as part of preparedness, in case there’s an overwhelming need for blood samples to be tested for the virus.
“The bottom line of my response is that the country is not prepared for an outbreak of the Ebola virus.”
Tomori decried that the case of Sawyer caught Nigeria unawares, as the country was not prepared enough for the disease.
He said, “We are not prepared to handle any outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease. There’s no sign of any state of preparedness. What happened in the case of the dead Liberian man with Ebola virus visiting Nigeria was circumstantial. It was not that we prepared for it as a nation.
“If the man had not been sick at the point he arrived in Nigeria, he could have travelled to Calabar for his conference. At that point it would likely be difficult to know there was a case of Ebola in the country. He could have died in Calabar without any trace.
“Interestingly too, what happened at the airport seemed to be a blessing in disguise. Just imagine what could have happened, had the Nigerian Medical Association not been on strike. The situation could have been worse by now. If medical doctors were not on strike, with the Liberian arriving sick at the Nigerian airport, he would likely have been taken to one of the government hospitals.
“In government hospitals, there are many people around; you have many outpatients and visitors who could have come in close contact with the man (Sawyer); that could have been a disaster.”
He urged the NMA to sheathe its sword on its ongoing strike, “in view of the looming Ebola outbreak.”
He said, “Nigerian medical doctors, for the sake of stemming the likely outbreak of Ebola, should suspend their strike and support government’s efforts.”
According to him, “It is for the sake of everybody.”
Also speaking, the Director, African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, Redeemer’s University, Christian Happi, described the outbreak of Ebola as “an epidemic characterising dysfunctional health systems.”
He said, “If the disease surveillance systems in West African countries were active, we would have prevented the spread of the virus once the epidemic started in Guinea in December 2013. Now, this epidemic can no longer be considered as a West African problem.”
The Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics stated that while the Federal Government and the Lagos State Government were making efforts to contain the situation, “I don’t know how really prepared we are in case of a major outbreak.”
Happi said Nigeria was “very fortunate” that it had diagnostic capability. He, however, noted that there was the need for laboratories to have enough reagents and supplies in case of a major outbreak.
“I believe the government has a small window of opportunities now to really stock these reference laboratories with equipment, supplies and reagents in order to face the epidemic. The government should quickly refurbish some medical facilities and dedicate them to the management of viral haemorrhagic fevers as a major step towards preparing for a major outbreak if it occurs,” Happi added.
Similarly, the Vice-President, Commonwealth Medical Association and immediate past President, Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, said “things are just getting to be pushed up the scale, in terms of our preparedness for the Ebola outbreak.”
He said it was expected that there would have been massive public enlightenment before, rather than after the case of Sawyer, which he described as one “detected fortunately.”
Enabulele said, “One would have expected that as the pandemic was spreading within some of those affected West African countries, there would have been an increased push to get the people to be aware of it.
“But, nevertheless, I think it is still commendable to note that there has been a renewed drive to upscale the public enlightenment aspect of the preparedness for the Ebola outbreak. We also need to beef up the surveillance mechanisms of the government.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Veterinary Medical Association, Lagos State chapter, Dr. Mobolaji Alao, has advised pet owners to screen their animals to ensure they are free of the Ebola virus.
Speaking to SUNDAY PUNCH, he advised that poultry farmers should ensure that they rear their livestock in a bat and rodent free environment. He said, “The Ebola virus can be transmitted to dogs. It is important that your pets are protected by keeping them in screened environments especially in bat infested areas.
“Pig farmers, especially, should not only provide screened husbandry facility for their livestock but they should also ensure a bat free environment, particularly the fruit bats. It has been shown through published studies that domestic and wild pigs can infect monkeys in close proximity.
“This has lent credence to the suggestion that there might be airborne components to the spread of the disease.”
Already, there are fears that the porous nature of Nigerian land borders may thwart the Federal Government’s efforts to check the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the country.
There are about 1,479 illegal routes into Nigeria, through which smugglers, illegal immigrants and terrorists have been infiltrating the country. This is said to be exposing the country to dangers. Despite having immigration and health officers who man 114 regular border posts, the level of territorial management has been described as inadequate to protect the country from Ebola virus.
The illegal immigrants from Chad, Mali, Niger, Cameroun, Togo, Benin Republic and other countries, who find Nigeria as an attractive destination for being the commercial nerve centre of the West African sub-region, may quicken the spread of the deadly disease. The Federal Government had last Sunday ordered the setting up of disease isolation centres at international airports in Nigeria.
The Coordinating General Manager, Aviation Parastatals, Mr. Yakubu Dati, had said the Federal Government had commenced screening of international passengers suspected to have the virus. The National Primary HealthCare Development Agency had also hinted that it had put its workers on the alert to check the disease.