Ebola in the time of Ebele

By IAfrica
In Nigeria
Aug 16th, 2014
0 Comments
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FOUR months after Chibok happened, Ebola scourge has brought another dimension of high anxiety, breaking into the nation’s consciousness with such deathly impact. There is an increasing number of suspect victims of Ebola while two persons have died of the expensive but deadly joke about using water as prophylactic treatment of Ebola.

When President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan tagged Mr. Patrick Sawyer a “mad man” for irresponsibly ignoring a travel restriction out of Liberia and thereby becoming the sole carrier of the deadly Ebola virus into Nigeria, many said it was an un-presidential retort. Well, I beg to differ; there is time to be statesman-like and there is time to be completely human, especially when one is confronted by deadly realities that can wipe out so many lives in a matter of weeks. Of course, I’m aware of the age-long cliché here that the living should not speak ill of the dead.

However, we should understand that what the late Sawyer did was not just a despicable act but callous in its entirety. And regardless of how well we try to cover rotting cadavers with the fragrance of a thousand flowers, it does not in any way equate a licence to make heaven. Buffeted by truckloads of problems that continue to defy any quick fix solutions, Sawyer’s tragic visit couldn’t have come at a worse time in the life of this country.

That singular trip to Nigeria has thrown an entire nation into confusion, aside exposing its citizens to one of the deadliest diseases that ever afflicted mankind. Now, we all live in real fear of one another while concern mounts across the globe. Today, Sawyer is gone yet he is here with us daily. Collectively, we remain the potential collateral damage of his act.

The virus he left behind is spreading like wildfire, unleashing its fatal blow and ravaging our souls. The signs are not just visible in the violence of the President’s swear words but also in the reality of death that haunts the land. This Sawyer left a sour taste in our mouth. Since Sawyer had nothing positive to contribute to our nation’s woes; he should, at least, have spared us the anguish of cursing his cremated body to the lonely grave.

If he had hearkened to the wise counsel to go into seclusion or surveillance, to determine if he had been infected with Ebola virus following the death of his sister of the virus in Liberia, we could have been spared the anxiety over an epidemic which Jonathan, in his legendary uninspiring dry comic, has vowed to eliminate in just two months! Anyway, we all know what to believe when our President gives timelines.

Or is there anyone in his cabinet that can refresh our memories on the timelines that have been met by Jonathan even on matters he has full control over? But then, this is not about presidential bashing. It is about what the grave indiscretion of the late Liberian- American, Mr. Sawyer, is inflicting on our psyche. In far-away USA, Sawyer’s wife, Decontee Sawyer, who is a radio host in New York, gave a robust defence for her husband’s decision to visit Nigeria.

She explained that Mr. Sawyer had no trust in the healthcare system in Liberia and had possibly headed to Nigeria with the hope of receiving better treatment for his ailment. Surely, he had a flawed picture of our healthcare system and he was unaware that our VIPs would rather die in foreign hands instead of our mismanaged hospitals.

And even if that were the case, how come the relevant authorities in Nigeria were never informed of that sickening visit? Or could it be that certain persons knew about the deadly trip but closed their eyes and blocked their eardrums in exchange for crisp dollars? We need to know what really transpired before Sawyer boarded a Nigeriabound plane! With an epileptic health system that has gone into the intensive care unit as medical doctors continue with their strike action over unfulfilled promises by the government, it is laughable that Jonathan could come up with that rude joke of a scoring a triumph over the Ebola scourge within 60 days.

As I write this, two health workers, a medical doctor and a nurse, have died from the disease. They were directly involved in treating Mr. Sawyer at the First Consultant Hospital, Lagos. A protocol officer who had contact with Sawyer also died of the virus on Tuesday in Lagos. Eight infected persons, including a nurse who just got married recently, have gone into seclusion while 177 persons have gone under surveillance.

In a country where records of movements and crossborder activities are rarely monitored, we would be deluding ourselves to think that the data above is anywhere near accurate. And that is exactly where the problems lie. No one can say for sure how many Sawyers are spreading the virus in hidden places as the government battle to confront the scourge.

A nurse, who was one of Sawyer’s primary contacts in Lagos, has been tracked to Enugu. She travelled to her home town to visit her family but she is now under surveillance with 20 others she came into contact with in the city. With the development, the total number of Nigerians under monitoring for the dreaded virus is now 198.

Even in climes with near-perfect policies on health and environmental issues, governments and citizens have to tread with caution while keeping tabs on developments in West African countries that are mostly affected by the scourge. Perhaps, we would have been saved from the “pure madness” of Sawyer if relevant agencies had been proactive in sensitising Nigerians on the threat that Ebola virus poses to humanity.

While it is not impossible that some of us would have ignored the warnings; claiming with the usual Nigerian religious fervour that Ebola virus cannot be the ‘portion’ of God’s children, I’m sure that many other Nigerians would have since begun applying much caution in their daily interactions. They would also have observed certain precautions including maintaining the highest form of hygiene.

In truth, what the Sawyer madness has done is to rekindle our legendary fire brigade approach in tackling clear and present danger. When the President’s immediate response included releasing some millions of dollars, we realize that as usual, we don’t fail to throw money at our problems. A friend of mine has warned, jokingly though, that the money should not be “isolated and quarantined” into private pockets! Today, we now know the danger the slightest of delay can cause in the life of a nation.

If Sawyer had not evaded the Liberian authorities who had placed him under surveillance, and found his way into a Lagos-bound plane via Lome, Togo and Accra, Ghana, we wouldn’t have been running from pillar to post gulping all manner of ‘medications’ to ward off a virus that kills within 21 days of infection! Aside the fact that handshakes and hugging have been left to the discretion of those who dare to take the risk in public gatherings including worship places, the dying and the dead may no longer be availed the traditional last minute love and kindness hitherto extended to them by close family members.

The Ebola virus is so latent that it still poses danger to anyone that comes in contact with the remains of an infected person. An ordinary handshake or any contact with the secretion of the infected is all that is required for one to become a victim of a disease that was imported into Nigeria by ‘one mad man’ as the President noted. Listen to Jonathan: “It is unfortunate that one mad man brought Ebola to us, but we have to contain it.

As a government, we promise that we will do everything humanly possible to contain the Ebola virus. My conversation with the WHO D-G, Dr Margaret Chan was revealing. She said 60 per cent of the transmission was spread during burials. That is why in my announcement; I’ve been saying that people should be careful about burials. Some people like burial ceremonies. This is not the time for burial ceremony, somebody is dead, he is dead, leave him there.

This is not the best time for those ceremonies. If he is dead, he is already dead, Sawyer that brought this Ebola to Nigeria; his sister died of Ebola, and he started acting somehow, his country asked him not to leave the country, let them observe him, but the crazy man decided to leave and found his way here.” What I feel is the shrill anguish of a man who is deeply concerned about a clearly avoidable affliction one foreign body has wrought on a country of over 160 million souls. It’s not just about the dead not having a decent burial.

It’s also about how the living- –men, women, boys, girls, poor, rich, old and young—have become victims of the murderous intent of the dead Sawyer. Surely, no one can blame the President for being rash in his comments even if the subject of presidential anger is as dead as death itself. I’m sure we won’t blame him either if he transfers such positive vibes to nailing those who daily plunge Nigeria into chaos by their action and inaction.

How wonderful would it be to see a President who calls a spade by its name and not just a farming implement? How heart-warming would it be to see a Jonathan comfortably calling corruption by its damned name without cloaking it with a more tempered language! Now that we know that we have a President that could burst into a fit of riotous rage even at the dead, we can only hope he would be that enraged in a determined effort to pull the country out of the brink!

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