A British national living in Sierra Leone has tested positive for Ebola Virus, the first Briton to fall victim to the deadly disease that has spread across the West African region since March, the Department of Health said on Saturday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the current Ebola epidemic – the world’s worst ever with 1,427 documented deaths – will likely take six to nine months to halt.
Some aid organisations, including medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, have warned that the outbreak, which began in Guinea before spreading to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, is now out of control.
The WHO conceded on Friday that the hiding of victims and the existence of “shadow zones” where medics cannot go had concealed the true scale of the epidemic.
Britain’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, John Watson, confirmed a British national was among those suffering from Ebola and said medical experts were assessing the situation in Sierra Leone to ensure appropriate care was provided.
“The overall risk to the public in the UK continues to be very low,” Watson said in a statement.
No further details about the British national were immediately available, and it was not known whether there were plans to evacuate the patient.
Ebola, which is passed on by direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons, strikes hardest at healthcare providers and caregivers who work closely with those infected. Dozens of local doctors and nurses have died from the virus in recent months.
Two American aid workers, who contracted Ebola in neighbouring Liberia and were then evacuated, recovered from the disease and were released from a hospital in the United States earlier this week.
Fear, stigma and denial have led many families to hide their infected loved ones from health officials. In other instances, patients have been forcibly removed from treatment facilities and isolation centers, creating the risk of the disease’s further spread.
Residents of Kaduna and the state government have intensified the battle against the spread of the deadly Ebola virus to the state.
Although the outbreak of the virus is yet to be reported in Kaduna and the northern part of the country since it broke out in Lagos, residents who are already aware of the disease are taking precautionary measures to contain its spread.
Nigeria along with Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are the hardest hit countries by the epidemic, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has called the worst in four decades.
A day after the WHO declared the epidemic an international health emergency, state governments in Nigeria are scrambling to impose measures to prevent contagion of the virus which has claimed over 1,000 lives.
Although many are aware about the deadly disease and its mode of transmission, the ability of people to avoid being infected and adhere to the preventive measures such as avoiding body contacts, crowdy places, proper and regular hand washing and handshake pose a major concern.
In Kaduna, the traditional capital of northern Nigeria, many people are at risk of this global emergency due to the stringent measures involved.
For example, the market located in the state capital, people are transacting their business with ease, not minding being infected.
It is the same story at the motor parks. Passengers travelling from one point to another are also at risk. Many said they don’t have a choice.
While everybody seem to be worried about the scourge, a group of concerned journalists have taken the bull by the horn to sensitise the public about the virus.
Leader of the group, Yusuf Idris, told Channels Television that the move became imperative considering the nature of the virus and how fast it spreads, stating that proper awareness campaign is what is needed at present to contain the spread of the disease.
The state government says it is not resting, as it had designated some public health facilities across the 23 Local Government Areas to serve as containment centres. And also trained medical personnel in case of an outbreak of the disease in the state, while on their part, the management of kaduna refinery also held a sensitisation meeting for its staff and host communities about the virus
The Ebola outbreak has major implications for a large segment of the population, economy, and religion of the entire world as there is no specific period for its transmission from one person to the other.
Beyond the preventive measures being put in place by government and corporate institutions, residents were also taking action.
But despite that, motor parks, markets and places of worship still remain vulnerable in contracting the virus.
The outbreak of Ebola virus in Nigeria has prompted a review of traditional practices of various government and private institutions, religious faiths, and communities. The virus has also stimulated significant research in the academic community into finding possible cure.
And to avoid further spread of the virus, it is expected that people must adhere to all the health tips and warnings by medical experts while massive sensitisation by all stakeholders will go a long way in curbing the spread.
A Medical Charity and two West African countries fighting the world’s worst Ebola epidemic have criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for its slow response, saying more action was needed to save victims threatened by the disease and hunger.
With the death toll over 1,000 and still climbing, the United Nation’s Health Agency is facing questions over whether it moved quickly enough to declare the months-old outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”, which it did on Aug 8.
Medical Charity MSF (Doctors Without Borders), which has been one of the most active groups in fighting the outbreak, said its spread had created a “wartime” situation in the worst-affected states of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Nigeria is also facing a smaller separate outbreak.
Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma said his nation’s only two treatment centers were “overwhelmed”. In neighboring Liberia, Information Minister Lewis Brown said Ebola-affected rural areas quarantined by troops faced serious food shortages.
“We need a more robust response to the nature of the disease and the way it is affecting us,” Koroma said in Freetown, adding he had delivered this message to the WHO, which is coordinating international efforts to try to control the outbreak.
The WHO said on Friday the death toll from this epidemic, first declared in Guinea in March, had risen to 1,145, as 76 new deaths were reported in the two days to Aug. 13 in the four nations affected so far.
“If our people are dying, the response should be an extraordinary response because it is an extraordinary situation,” Koroma told a news conference, saying his country needed more Ebola treatment centers and medics to staff them.
“Time is of the essence,” he added, saying he had seen the world respond to major humanitarian crises, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and West Africa needed similar help.
Fear of the virus, which causes fever, vomiting in its advanced form, severe hemorrhaging and organ failure, is curbing business in Africa and threatening to taint the continent’s image as a rising economic star.
In Liberia, which like neighbors Sierra Leone and Guinea have deployed troops to cordon off a tri-border zone which has the highest concentration of Ebola cases, Brown said his country also needed more health personnel and aid.
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.