Ebola: Health Minister Says Doctors’ Strike Puts Nigeria At Disadvantage
The Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, has reiterated the government’s determination to put an end to the spread of Ebola virus in Nigeria and protect all its citizens from contracting the disease.
While speaking on the Tuesday edition of Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, he noted that it would be wrong to speculate if there had been more cases of the virus but maintained that some health workers who attended to the late Patrick Sawyer had shown fever symptom but the tests on them turned out negative with the exception of the female doctor who had been confirmed to have contracted the Ebola virus.
On the general situation of things in the country, he said that 70 people, who had primary contacts with the Liberian, were currently under active surveillance, and having shown suggestive symptoms, about 8 people have been quarantined.
He added that the family of the female doctor has also been kept under watch and surveillance, they have been tested and none of them had tested positive yet.
Questions were raised about Nigeria’s involvement in the conference of African Health Ministers held in Accra, Ghana and how it has allegedly failed to address the issue of Ebola spread across the continent and into Nigeria, and Prof. Chukwu explained that indeed the conference addressed the issues of Ebola spread.
He revealed that one of the resolutions of the conference, which was facilitated by the World Health Organisation, was “the establishment of coordinating mechanism for all the ECOWAS countries, plus all the Central African countries, on how to ensure that we share common strategies, best practices and information as we moved on.”
He explained that the spread of Ebola was “just unfortunate”, as the late Patrick Sawyer, whose was the index case, travelled to Nigeria against the warnings of his own country.
“How he ended up travelling and not disclosing full information to those who were asking (is unknown). Even on the hospital bed he was still denying. Its just unfortunate that he just brought this into Nigeria, but then it tells you that every country of the world is indeed at risk”, he said.
He, however, gave assurances that the global community was aware of this risk and there were efforts to address it.
“This week the W.H.O is meeting in Geneva to review all strategies that are in place and to see if anything more drastic could be suggested.
“Even in-country here in Nigeria, we are working as a team; Federal Government, Lagos State Government, other state governments, W.H.O, US Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention. We continue to review the strategies we are putting in place.”
Speaking on the focus of the strategy being deployed, he noted that communication was paramount, beyond information, as there was need to always share information and this, he said, the states and Federal Government were “doing very well”.
He stated that the President has been supportive of the Federal Ministry of Health by inaugurating an inter-ministerial committee for communication strategies, and eight ministers, whose offices are relevant, were serving on the committee. They include the Ministers of Communication Technology, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Interior, Aviation, Science and Technology and the Minister of Information, who chairs the committee.
Asides the use of electronic media to run jingles, which had started since March 2014, the Health Minister disclosed that the scope of communication had been widened with the launch of a new website: www.ebolaalert.org which is an interactive website that accommodates sharing of suggestions, airing complains and answering questions from citizens. This is in addition to accounts being opened on social media platforms; Facebook and Twitter.
A toll-free telephone line; ‘0800EBOLAHELP’ has also been launched for the public, dedicated to reaching the health agencies and help desks set up to attend to citizens.
Other strategies include diagnosis, which he said has been greatly improved to the delight of the country’s development partners, adding that they would continue to upgrade.
Border screening was also mentioned as part of the strategies. This include temperature screening and data collection of all passengers entering the country. He added that there had been a directive for corpses not to be brought into the country without proper death certificates.
He cited the cases reported in Anambra and Imo states as examples of how the issue of corpse screening would be handled. He insisted that the responsibility was on the families of the dead persons to prove the cause of death, while the corpses would also be subjected to tests by Nigerian authorities.
Many citizens have expressed the view that the doctors’ strike was a blessing in disguise for Nigeria, owing to the view that the Liberian carrier of the Ebola virus would have been taken to a public hospital where there are usually more patients and this would have led to a possibly uncontrollable spread, but Professor Chukwu believes that while this could be a valid opinion, the country still remained at a disadvantage with the doctors being on strike.
Although, according to the Minister, the non-availability of doctors in government hospitals across the country hadn’t affected the management of the Ebola virus yet, he warned that there were possibilities of more cases of the virus springing up in the coming days and at this point more experts would be needed to manage it.
He appealed to the striking doctors to get back to work as most of their requests had been addressed by the Federal Government.
He said that the reasons for the doctors’ refusal to resume work could only be answered by the leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association, as all relevant authorities and stakeholders had intervened in the matter and he could not explain why the doctors have refused to resume.
Nigerians have also expressed fear that Nigeria lacked the infrastructural capacity in its health sector to handle the outbreak of Ebola.
The Health Minister, while admitting that there was dire need for the country to move faster in that aspect, said that work had commenced on providing more isolation facilities across the country and within the hospitals to prevent the spread of the virus.
He commended the Lagos State Government for providing the required facilities to quarantine and treat patients. “Given the way Lagos State has been proactive in this matter, I want to commend the authorities of Lagos State. I believe still working with them, they will be able to provide additional spaces”, he said.
The Minister also promised to do more on sensitizing young Nigerians on the Ebola virus. He revealed that the Ministry had commenced work on collaborating with schools across the country to provide proper information to the students.
Ebola and Bush Meat
On the suspected cause of the virus, Prof Chukwu maintained an earlier plea that Nigerians who consider bats as delicacies should avoid its consumption and that of other bush meat as they could have been in contact with bats.
He, however, added that those processing the bats and other bush meat were more in danger of contracting the Ebola virus as they are the ones who handle the animals in their raw state. He explained that the meat, if well heated up, could be free of the Ebola virus.
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