Preventing Outbreak Of Deadly Ebola Virus
By Sola Ogunmosunle
It is a terrifying development that Nigeria is at risk of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease epidemic. The virus is “out of control” and spreading rapidly across the West African coast like a wild harmattan fire with the World Health Organisation(WHO) recording 44 new infections and 21 deaths in just two days. The outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is the worst on record with over 500 deaths reported to date. With several cases of Ebola reported in Mali, Gambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone, West Africa is witnessing the most challenging outbreak since the disease was discovered 38 years ago. WHO recently declared that it expects the deadly virus’ spread to continue for several more months in West Africa and now that it has spread to three neighbouring countries, the crisis appears to be far from over.
Nigeria, being the economic hub of the West African sub-region, attracts the highest movement of people, goods and services within the region and this portends great danger for the country as the Ebola Virus is highly infectious and can be transmitted through bodily fluids, skin and other organs or through indirect contact with environments contaminated by the disease. High population densities in the affected West African cities and the difficulty in regulating the movement of people across the region further compound the problem and raise the high possibility of this disease filtering into Nigeria.
In a country where management of emergencies and disasters is lethargic, a nation where healthcare facilities and personnel are grossly inadequate and doctors’ strike incessant, the possibility of coping with an outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus disease will, no doubt, be a very difficult national yoke. Nigeria remains one of five countries in the world still grappling with the eradication of polio even with readily available vaccination. In a country where strife is rife, the burden of curtailing the outbreak of another disease with no available vaccination will no doubt be a weighty crisis. This is why the authorities must act fast to secure the nation’s borders and prevent entry of the deadly virus.
The Ebola virus was first identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 and gets its name from the Ebola River, which is situated near the village where it was discovered. According to the WHO, Ebola is a “zoonotic” disease, meaning that the virus can spread easily between animals and humans. Scientists believe it was initially present in wild animals living in tropical rainforests in equatorial Africa. Fruit bats have also been identified as one of the main hosts as they can transmit the disease while remaining unaffected by it. The disease spreads to humans when they come into contact with blood or other body fluids from infected animals, usually through hunting.
Ebola is highly infectious. It can be transmitted through bodily fluids, skin and other organs or through indirect contact with environments contaminated by the disease. The disease can also have a long incubation period, lasting up to three weeks, which allows it to spread rapidly before diagnosis and quarantine can take place. Men who have been infected with the disease and recovered can still pass it on through sexual contact for up to seven weeks.
In the absence of effective treatment and a human vaccine, raising awareness of the risk factors for Ebola infection and protective measures individuals can take is the only way to reduce human infection and death. Besides clinical management, the WHO, the Federal Ministry of Health and other partners should implement measures to respond to outbreak, contact tracing, disease surveillance, laboratory work, logistics, information-sharing and communication for effective response.
The Federal Ministry of Health must also step up its public enlightenment campaigns to further create awareness on how to prevent infection from the deadly virus, and in case of infection, how to identify the early symptoms which is characterized by sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, sore throat and death. There is need for aggressive production and distribution of Information, Education and Communication Materials on prevention and management of Ebola Virus. Slots for jingles on radio must be increased and made to have widest coverage.
All border states, because of their proximity to the reported countries of outbreak, particularly to the west of Nigeria should emulate Lagos and other states that have issued warning alerts to their residents on the risk of Ebola Virus outbreak. Lagos state, in particular, had advised the residents on precautionary measures to prevent infections. These include washing of hands often with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who are sick and ensuring that objects used by the sick are decontaminated and properly disposed. The Disease Control Units of all the Ministry of Health in the vulnerable states must also synergise in creating a coordinated surveillance system around the border posts to identify possible carriers.
One risk factor for the infection of Ebola Virus that may be overlooked in Nigeria is the consumption of ‘bush meat’. The consumption of ‘bush meat’ is a significant contributing factor in West Africa where it is regarded as a delicacy. ‘Bush meat’ is often sold by the roadside grills, and despite being banned in Ivory Coast for instance, in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease, people continue to sell and consume it. This is no different in Nigeria. It is a fact that some of these ‘bush meats’ may be harbingers of the deadly Ebola Virus. The concerned authorities must therefore, immediately, ban the sale and consumption of bush meat. The people must be enlightened on the dangers inherent in the consumption of such bush meat.
We must be proactive in our attitude towards the prevention of disease outbreaks; our responses to catastrophes in this clime are usually reactive. In this instance, our fire-brigade approach of rushing out to quench fire all the time, rather than figure out how to put in place measures to prevent fire outbreaks, must be jettisoned. Our nationalistic tendencies for lack of prescience must not prevail in protecting ourselves against the deadly Ebola Virus. A stitch in time saves nine.
•Ogunmosunle is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.