Fencing off possible Ebola return
Watch out, as Ebola makes a reappearance

REPORTSof the recent death of a 17-year-old boy from the deadly Ebola Virus Disease in Liberia have raised tension over the possibility of another widespread infection of the EVD extending to other parts of the world. Rather than panic, however, the situation calls for the immediate introduction of strict control measures to prevent a repeat of the recent experience where poor containment paved the way for cross-border infections, taking the epidemic beyond the epicentre of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to places as far-flung as Nigeria, Spain, the United States and Germany.

In what has been described as the deadliest outbreak of the disease, first discovered in the Congo Democratic Republic in 1976, the World Health Organisation, at the height of the infection before it was checked earlier this year, gave figures of 27,352 infections and 11,193 deaths. Cases of infection and deaths were also recorded in Senegal, Mali, Italy, the United Kingdom, France and Switzerland due to contact made by people who had travelled to the affected areas.

Surprisingly, the news of the death in Liberia broke on June 24, barely 46 days after the country, which was the worst affected, with 4,806 deaths, was declared Ebola-free by the WHO on May 9. This status was further upheld by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although still under investigation, it has remained a mystery how the boy contracted the disease since there is no evidence yet that he came in contact with a sufferer. Yet, it is strongly believed that it could have been contracted through sexual contact since experts say that the virus could remain in the system of a survivor for upwards of eight months after the person must have been adjudged cured. The possibility of animal-to-man transmission has also not been ruled out. Experts have warned that bush meat delicacy, especially bats, has been identified as an authentic source of infection.

However, in Nigeria, where the disease afflicted 19 people last year – including the index case, Patrick Sawyer – and claimed eight lives, it is heartening that the Ministry of Health has given assurances that there is no reason to panic. While asking Nigerians to be vigilant, a ministry official, Ayotunde Adesugba, in a statement, said, “All state Ministries of Health and health facilities are hereby advised to raise their alert level and REPORT any suspected case to the Federal Ministry of Health.” This is a more proactive approach by the Nigerian health authorities who failed to heed a similar warning by this newspaper in April 2014 until the first EVD case was recorded in Nigeria on July 20.

But beyond such advice by the ministry, there is also the need to take more concrete steps to reactivate the structures that enabled the country to easily contain the outbreak when it hit the Nigerian shores. This includes the mounting of checks at the entry points into the country. EVD is a highly contagious disease and the only source of infection is by contact, either with an infected person or the dead body of an infected person or animal. Coming in contact with body fluids or personal effects of an infected person, as was the case when people invaded treatment centres in Liberia and made away with mattresses, pillows and CLOTHES while trying to free the patients, is also very deadly.

For a disease that has neither an identifiable cure nor recognised vaccines, eternal vigilance remains the advisable option. This is why it has often been said that as long as there is a single case of EVD in a West African country, the whole region –and indeed the entire humanity – is actually at risk. And even more worrisome is the fact that the Liberian case is not the only threat facing mankind at the moment. While Liberians turned out in white on May 11 to celebrate their new status and honour those that had been claimed by the disease, their neighbours in Sierra Leone and Guinea –where the current outbreak was first reported before the virus was then imported into other countries – were still battling the epidemic, which has been described as the worst public health issue since the advent of HIV/AIDS.

Government at its various levels in Nigeria also has a duty to embark on public enlightenment campaign to keep the people informed about what is expected of them, such as reporting suspected cases to the right quarters and avoiding unnecessary trips to the affected countries. There is also the need to ensure that closed circuit television cameras INSTALLED at the country’s entry points are functional as they will come in handy during contact tracing. While there may not be any need to ban flights originating from the affected countries, since the WHO says the risk of infection through flight is low, surveillance level by the health authorities has to be very high.

At personal and individual levels, there is the need to keep up with strict and simple personal hygiene practices. Even when there is no threat of Ebola virus, Nigerians should not be in a hurry to abandon the culture of hand-washing that they imbibed and adhered to so strictly at the onset of the disease in the country last year. There is so much that is at stake HERE; if the country was able to handle the first outbreak so professionally that it attracted worldwide commendation, there is no reason whatsoever to fall below that standard whenever the need to demonstrate that capacity arises.



Copyright PUNCH.

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