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.



Julia Duncan-Cassell

Aid agencies ‘exploiting Ebola orphans to fund lavish lifestyle in luxury $800-a-night hotels’

Aid agency workers living in fancy hotels while orphans struggle to eat
Liberia minister accuse agencies of handing out huge daily allowances
Thousands of orphans have been abandoned to the care of neighbours
More money should be directed to orphaned children, minister claims

Western aid agencies are using the plight of Africa’s Ebola orphans to fund a lavish lifestyle in $800-a-night hotels and leaving the children to fend for themselves, according to Liberia’s development chief.

Children who were forced to watch their parents die and were then shunned by their community are being ignored while useless facilities are being built, according to Julia Duncan-Cassell, Liberia’s minister in charge of saving the orphans.

She accused the agencies of handing out $235 daily allowances that are higher than her salary – and that the money invested is wasted on expensive hotels and driving around in big cars.

Meanwhile thousands of orphans have been abandoned to the care of neighbours and relatives who are struggling to find money and food to support them.

A MailOnline investigation has discovered that just 531 of Liberia’s estimated 12,000 orphans are receiving formal help in government safe homes despite the hundreds of millions of pounds of Western aid pouring into the country.

There is only one worker dedicated to tracking them down for every 66,000 people in the country.

Duncan-Cassell – whose department is responsible for the welfare of the country’s 1.7million children below the age of 15 – says: ‘I feel sad, the children are being used for the wrong reasons.

‘They [the agencies] are using the situation to raise money for their organisations. Some of the money is paid directly to NGOs – but for the foreigners, their per diem, the money they get per day, is even more than I make as a minister, the kind of cars that they ride, the best hotels. How many of them do you need to do that? We do not need an army of them.’

She said the money was going to the wrong people because in the end it would be the government of Liberia that had to account for the future of the children, not the NGOs or donor agencies.

‘Millions of dollars might be coming into the country but it is going to international organisations that are running their own institutions and their own organisations, not understanding the dimension of what needs to be done.’

All over Liberia, there are orphans camped out with neighbours and relatives because no-one has taken responsibility for helping them. All have painful stories but few have been through as much as the five Kpaingba children.

Chancy Kpaingba, 15, watched his mother Catherine, 34, a bright and vivacious beautician, die in front of him after developing Ebola and were admitted to a treatment centre.

Now he and his four brothers and sisters: Odell, 17, Chancy, 15, Otis, 8, Josiah, 5, and Daniel, just five months old are alone. Their father Augustine died before Catherine fell sick. Mail Online



Dr Ameyo Stella Adadevoh…RIP

How social media helped Nigerians win war against ebola

With over 131 million active lines and 67 million mobile Internet subscribers, Nigerians engaged the social media to spread information which helped contain the Ebola Virus Disease, writes DAYO OKETOLA

Being the worst Ebola Virus Disease outbreak ever, the deadly virus has continued to outpace financial and health resources available to fight its spread. With thousands of households badly ravaged and children orphaned across West Africa, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a global emergency with over 16,000 infected people and nearly 7,000 deaths.

As of December 13, 2014, Liberia has recorded 3,290 Ebola deaths; Sierra Leone, 2,033; Guinea, 1,518; Mali, six; and Senegal, one. While Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are the three hardest-hit countries with many deaths, only seven people died in Nigeria.

EVD was imported into Nigeria on July 20, 2014 by Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-born American diplomat who flew in from Lome, in transit to a conference in Calabar the Cross River State capital.

The Lagos State Government and the Federal Ministry of Health were quick to disseminate messages urging people to avoid physical contact, to wash their hands frequently, and avoid handshakes and hugs, among other tips. The Federal Ministry of Health immediately put up a dedicated EVD page on its website which contained fact sheets in English and downloadable fliers in Pidgin, Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo languages.

Nigerians were enlightened on the symptoms of Ebola which typically include weakness, fever, aches, diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain.

Amid all of these, former Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola and the Deputy Incident Manager, Ebola Virus Isolation Centre in Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Kayode Oguntimehin, among others, kept reassuring Nigerians that the country had what it takes to deal with the threat of the virus.

The response to momentous anti-Ebola sensitisation among Nigerians was expectedly overwhelming: hand sanitisers became a must-have by individuals and corporate organisations. Some banks did not just stop at sensitisation; they provided their workers with hand gloves. Churches and mosques also joined the crusade and thermal thermometers for measuring body temperature became a critical piece of equipment in offices and other public places such as airports, shopping malls and land borders, among others.

Health worker burn used protection gear at the NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) center in Conakry on September 13, 2014. Photo: AFP

At the end, the total number of confirmed EVD cases in Nigeria as of Monday, September 8, 2014, stood at 19, with 15 in Lagos and four in Port Harcourt. The total number of deaths from the virus as of Tuesday, September 9, 2014, stood at seven.

Having succeeded in taming the raging disease, the WHO on October 20, 2014, declared Nigeria as officially free of Ebola transmission 42 days after the “last day that any person in the country had contact with a confirmed or probable Ebola case.”

“Today, 20 October, Nigeria reached that 42-day mark and is now considered free of Ebola transmission,” the WHO said in a statement signed by Communications Officer, Fadéla Chaib. While commending the Nigerian Government’s strong leadership and effective coordination of the response that included the rapid establishment of an Emergency Operations Centre, the WHO acknowledged that “strong public awareness campaigns, teamed with early engagement of traditional, religious and community leaders, also played a key role in successful containment of this outbreak.”

To this end, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson, reasoned that the social media also played a major role in the anti-Ebola campaign. According to her, the use of a combination of an Android app, Facebook and Twitter were instrumental in Nigeria’s fight to contain the EVD.

Johnson, who spoke to ministers and senior officials from across the globe at the International Telecommunications Union 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-14) in Busan, Republic of Korea, explained that the phone app helped in reducing reporting times of infections by 75 per cent.

She said that test results were scanned to tablets and uploaded to emergency databases and field teams got text message alerts on their phones informing them of the results.

This uncommon success rate was largely attributed to the prompt and coordinated response by the Lagos State Government and the Federal Ministry of Health.

The Assistant Administrator for Global Health, United States Agency for International Development, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez, said, “With the increasing use and decreasing cost of mobile phones, leveraging mobile phone technology to accelerate access to health information and services is a game changer.”

With a mobile subscription base of over 131 million active mobile lines out of Nigeria’s 170 million population and 67 million mobile Internet subscription as of June 2014, millions of Nigerians besieged social media sites such as Twitter, You Tube, and Google+, among others, on their mobile phones to learn about the deadly disease. The country’s over 11 million people on Facebook were not left out.

Thus, this demonstrated Pablos-Méndez’s opinion that mobile phone technology could accelerate access to health information as more Nigerians engaged mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger, WeChat, PalmChat, as well as Bulk SMS to spread information about how to avoid being infected with the disease.

This, according to experts, is a beautiful demonstration of the explosion in the use of new media and technology to spread information in Nigeria.

The team of volunteers behind the popular Twitter hashtag, #EbolaAlert, engaged Nigerians consistently during the period the viral disease raged in the country.

EbolaAlert is an evidence-driven group of volunteer professionals working on EVD interventions. It was created by doctors but also involved active participation of other professionals. Partners include the Federal Ministry of Health, Lagos State, WHO, UNICEF, CDC, and Doctors without Borders.

Various online chat sessions such as #StopEbola and #EbolaChat were initiated to keep Twitter users abreast of the new developments regarding the viral disease. Nigerians also used hashtags such as #Ebola, #EbolaFacts and #EradicateEbola to figure out what it was and how they could protect themselves.

The media aide to the former Minister of Health, Dan Nwomeh, also signed up on Twitter during the Ebola outbreak in the country. The health minister’s media aide, who began tweeting on August 18, gave regular updates of recorded cases of the viral disease while the outbreak lasted. He also made use of the social media platforms to curate inquiries from the public for official notification and response from the Minister of Health, while also deploying it as a tool for debunking rumours and half truths like the infamous “salt water bath” cure for Ebola.

Visitors (R) are decontaminated by health workers at Island Hospital as they arrive to deliver food to relatives suffering from the Ebola virus in Monrovia, Liberia on September 26, 2014. Photo: AFP

The Chairperson, Women in Technology in Nigeria, Mrs. Martha Omoekpen Alade, in an interview with our correspondent, agreed with the Minister of Communications Technology that the social media played a significant role in Nigeria’s containment of the Ebola virus.

She said, “The social media played a role in the fight against Ebola in Nigeria, a huge role indeed. Nigerians spend a lot of time on Facebook daily, and this became one of the most effective Ebola alert tools.

“Every second a Nigerian checked his or her Facebook wall, Ebola alert popped up. Facebook, which provides a good platform to post pictures and videos, was a very powerful avenue to sensitise the public visually. YouTube videos were also helpful.”

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to be continued next post