Nigeria has shown that with knowledge, rapid and coordinated interventions and painstaking follow-up, the deadly Ebola virus can not only be stopped in its tracks, it can be vanquished. This has made the country the global reference point on how to successfully combat the virus. Is the rest of Africa paying close attention? Frederick Mordi has the rest of the story.
On 20th October 2014, exactly three months after a sick Liberian diplomat named Patrick Sawyer brought the dreaded Ebola virus into Lagos, Nigeria, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially certified the country Ebola-free.
The doctors at a private hospital in Lagos where Sawyer was rushed to on his arrival from Liberia, had initially treated him for malaria which he claimed he had, before they discovered the chilling truth. By then it was too late to take extra precautions. He died five days later, triggering a chain of transmissions that killed eight out of 20 infected persons in Nigeria.
Before the WHO certification, Nigeria had received accolades from the international community for the professional manner in which it contained the disease from spreading. Indeed, only two out of 36 states in the federation recorded Ebola cases: Lagos, where the outbreak was first reported, and Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
Nigeria’s health officials have had to trace and quarantine hundreds of people who had contact with the primary cases for 21 days, as part of concerted nationwide efforts at preventing the spread of Ebola that has reportedly killed about 4,922 in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, as at the end of October this year. There are also reported Ebola cases outside the African continent, with fatalities.
Following Nigeria’s success in eradicating Ebola, it has now become a reference point for other countries still battling with the disease.
The WHO in particular, commended the government for ensuring effective coordination of the response that included the setting up of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), a ‘war-room’ of sorts, in partnership with the private sector.
The country may have won the Ebola battle, but the WHO country representative in Nigeria, Riu Gama Vaz, has warned Nigerians not to let down their guard as the war is still raging in other parts of West Africa. Vaz gave the advice in Abuja, while officially declaring Nigeria Ebola-free.
He said: “Today, 20th October, Nigeria reached that 42-day mark and is now considered free of Ebola transmission. It means twice the incubation period after the last confirmed case of the Ebola Virus Disease was discharged from the isolation ward, having tested negative for the Ebola virus, the chain of transmission has been broken.
“WHO officially declares that Nigeria is now free of the Ebola virus. The virus is gone for now; the outbreak in Nigeria has been defeated. This is a spectacular success story. It shows that Ebola can be contained. But we must be clear that we have only won a battle, the war will only end when West Africa is also declared free of Ebola.”
According to WHO recommendations, the end of an Ebola outbreak in a country can be declared after 42 days, with no new cases detected. The 42 days represents twice the maximum incubation period for Ebola, which is 21 days. The period starts from the last day that any person in the country had contact with a confirmed or probable Ebola case.