The topical issue that has continued to dominate world headlines is Ebola. The killer instinct of the virus is no longer news; what is news, however, are the various preventive measures now being put in place everywhere to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus. These preventive measures, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, are as many as they vary from country to country. In Nigeria, the government has been battling to persuade the people from adopting an unorthodox approach that claims that adding salt to warm water to bathe, and drinking warm water salt therapy can prevent Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). That message had gone viral in the social media and through unsolicited text messages before the government sprung into action. Even at that, several people who had taken that route landed in the hospital while a few others were not so lucky. They met their untimely death in the process. Talk of dying before the arrival of death itself.
Last week, this column wrote on Africa’s destiny with pandemics. The column stated that the current Ebola’s spread in four West African countries – Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria – “is a reminder of the vast development needs that persist in some of the world’s poorest countries”. It is, therefore, not too funny to read what Decontee Sawyer, wife of the late Patrick Sawyer, the man who imported EVD into Nigeria, recently told a magazine in Liberia. Decontee said her husband’s decision to travel from Liberia to Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, was a desperate search for a better healthcare system. She said 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. Many Nigerians, and even Liberians, had condemned Mr. Sawyer for travelling to Nigeria despite knowing that he was infected with the Ebola virus before embarking on the trip. Some Nigerians on social media even went as far as describing him as a “biological terrorist” who came into the country deliberately to spread the disease.
Decontee’s defence of her husband notwithstanding, what is clear is that at the time he made the journey to Nigeria, Sawyer knew his health status quite well before he sneaked into Nigeria through Lome, the Togolese capital. Had he done his homework well, the late Sawyer would have known that escaping from Liberia to Nigeria was like jumping from frying pan to fire. The fire finally consumed him when he was eventually cremated after he died of the Ebola disease. His cremation was done in line with the prescription of the World Health Organisation, WHO, for the safe disposal of victims of Ebola disease to forestall further spread of the disease by the corpses of the victims. WHO had said that 60 percent or more of those affected by the disease contracted it from the corpses of the victims before or during burial rites.
If we are all now blaming Sawyer for importing the disease to Nigeria willingly or unwillingly, what can we say about the nurse who had primary contact with the late Sawyer and was placed under observation but who equally sneaked out from Lagos and headed for Enugu where a few people have now been placed under observation? What this means is that Lagos is not the only state in Nigeria that has so far been hit by the deadly EVD; Enugu has joined the fray. After the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja last Wednesday, Labaran Maku, the Minister of Information, told State House correspondents that Enugu came into the picture because one of the nurses that treated the American-Liberian, Patrick Sawyer, shunned medical advice and travelled to the city.
Thank God that the medical team has been able to trace all those who came into contact with the nurse, including her husband, and they are now being quarantined in Enugu. The nurse has done to Enugu what Patrick Sawyer did to Lagos that has now put Nigeria in the infamous map of Ebola-ravaged countries. One would have expected those keeping vigil on all these contacts to put a water-tight cordon on such people, but Nigerians or Africans, being what we are, we have high proclivity to disobey orders. If the nurse who has transported this virus to Enugu survives, what will the system do to her even if one or two others who contracted the virus from her throw in the towel tomorrow?
The lacklustre manner in which the case of the nurse has been handled is a signpost of the unserious manner we handle sensitive issues in this country and in Africa. The other day a national newspaper displayed the photograph of medical personnel who look more like nurses wearing protective health gears at the National Hospital in Abuja on its front page. The picture was, perhaps, to illustrate that the country was ready to combat the Ebola virus headlong. Ironically, that message was lost when I discovered that one of the ladies was full of laughter as if she was modelling for a Nollywood extravaganza as the photographer clicked away. That is the way we are. Now, tell me, what was funny to the nurse that she so much got captivated with laughter in a situation that she could have complimented with a sober look?
More disturbing, is the recent report that no fewer than 17 patients infected with Ebola were unaccounted for after they fled an armed raid on a quarantine centre on the outskirts of Monrovia, the Liberian capital, by men who claimed the epidemic was a fiction. Reports say, the attackers, mostly young men armed with clubs, shouted that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf “is broke” and “there’s no Ebola” in Liberia as they broke into the facility. The facility was believed to be housing 29 patients who “had all tested positive for Ebola” and were receiving preliminary treatment before being taken to hospital. Out of the 29 patients, 17 reportedly fled in the aftermath of the assault. Another nine died a few days after, while three others were allegedly taken away by force by their relatives from the centre. Residents had opposed the creation of the centre, set up by health authorities in part of the city considered an epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in the Liberian capital. Again, that is the way we are in Africa. It is a shame.
The Ebola outbreak, the worst since the virus first appeared in 1976, has claimed 1,145 lives in five months, according to the United Nations World Health Organisation’s latest figures as of August 13: 413 in Liberia, 380 in Guinea, 348 in Sierra Leone and four in Nigeria. With the appalling health care delivery system in this country and Africa as a whole, I believe we should all go down on our knees to pray fervently to God to save us from this killer virus. This is because in the event of a severe outbreak of the disease, (God forbid), many heads will roll especially now that they are saying that the trial vaccine is out of stock.
Mind you, this virus has been ravaging some parts of Africa since 1976 – 38 years ago – and it never occurred to anybody to find a lasting cure for the terrible disease. Recall that this current one broke out more than six months ago and it was only last week that WHO deemed it fit to hold an emergency session after more than a thousand souls had been lost. Call it different strokes for different folks. If it had happened in any of the developed countries, would the world have waited this long? The same thing happened many years ago during the Rwanda genocide. The world stood akimbo as two brothers, the Hutus and Tutsis, engaged one another in a bloody fratricidal war that claimed thousands of lives.
Anyway, this Ebola thing is a wake-up call on Africans and the Blacks in the Diaspora to wake up from self-induced stupor, gird their loins and get their bearings right. If not, we will continue to be a laughing stock in the world arena. May God help us!