The menacing Ebola virus disease which hit the shores of Nigeria recently and got an instant boot out has shown that the country is indeed a sleeping giant. Minister of Health, Dr Onyebuchi Chukwu, who led the fierce battle against the deadly disease, rightfully beat his chest and announced that, today, there is no Ebola patient in the country. This feat has won international accolades for the nation. And tomorrow, Oct 20, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is expected to formally declare the country Ebola-free.
Nigerians got panic-stricken late August, this year, when news spread that an Ebola-ridden Liberian diplomat, Patrick Sawyer, had collapsed at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos. Not knowing that the Liberian was carrying Ebola virus, some airport officials and other public-spirited persons around the scene helped him to the First Consultants Hospital in Obalende, Lagos. Sawyer did not survive it, but many of those who had contact with him, including Dr. Stella Adadevoh, contracted the disease. Some died, others got well.
The incident jolted the world to the reality that every country in the globe was only one flight away from the deadly and fast spreading Ebola virus disease (EVD) which had hitherto ravaged three West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing more than 4,000 out of more than 5,000 already infected.
With their mouths agape at the Nigerian experience, other countries in the continent such as South Africa, Senegal and Kenya, Africa’s economic heavyweights, began to shut their borders against travelers from the affected countries. While other African countries silently restricted movement, more advanced nations took measures to check every visitor at the point of entry to be sure no one with the disease infiltrated their territory.
The outbreak of Ebola virus disease has significantly altered the socio-political, as well as economic life of nations, especially the ones where it is widespread. Its implications are far-reaching, with the staggering death toll and a debilitating effect on human and material resources.
As deadly as it is, Ebola first attacked the Nigerian people’s psyche even before it penetrated their bloodstream. The Nigerian experience was that social gates began to shut down. Friends and relatives thought twice before shaking hands when they met. And even when they braved it to make bodily contacts, they reached for hand sanitizers cleverly hidden in their pockets or bags. The church, the bastion of faith and hope in the face of adversities, reconsidered their mode of administering the Holy Communion as well as the exchange of pleasantries in the middle of the service, often kicked off with the song, “let us join hands together and praise the Lord…”
More remarkably, the social media sent some people to their untimely graves when it circulated a false precautious measure against Ebola that people should bath in salt water and also drink salt solution. Some who believed the instruction and applied it either fell ill or died, affirming the Shakespearean axiom that cowards die many times before their death.
Ebola’s political implications played up in the ruptured diplomatic ties among countries that shut their borders against nations that became sudden pariahs to them because one or two cases of Ebola were discovered in the country. A case in point was the repatriation of the Nigerian sports contingent who had gone to China for a tournament. Also, Gabon refused initially to grant visa to the Nigerian Eaglets billed to play in their country in the first leg of their World Cup qualifier series on grounds that Ebola was in their country but later allowed the psychologically wearied boys who finally lost the match.
Economically, healthcare expenditures rose, national budgets came under strain and government revenue began to drop as labour was affected, with workers either getting ill or avoiding places or objects that exposed them to Ebola virus. In Sierra Leone, the mining industry, which is the country’s mainstay, is at present suffering as companies are shutting down and workers leaving the country. Nigeria experienced a mild labour crisis as government and teachers bandied words over resumption date for schools. While the government ordered the reopening of schools on Sept 22, saying that it had contained the virus in the country, the teachers insisted that government had not equipped them enough against the disease. Medical doctors, who were already on strike before the outbreak, felt reluctant to return to duty despite the exigency of the moment and the agreements they reached with government. All these culminated in loss of man hours.
Agricultural production plummeted and markets were shut down in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, worsening the economic conditions of these countries already at the bottom of global economic and social indicators.
We must not hesitate to commend the federal government’s handling of the health crisis so far, following the reports that no Ebola patient is at present recorded here. We, however, advise that the nation must not rest on its oars, knowing that another Patrick Sawyer could creep in, may be not through the airspace this time. Enlightenment campaigns on good personal hygiene must be sustained until the world is rid of the danger of Ebola.
While the world is full of praises for the government, a lot of Nigerians appear to habour distrust that the days of Ebola are actually over in the country. Panic and false alarm are still being raised in some quarters, especially in hospitals where care givers and health workers continue to be apprehensive. The solution to this problem is the provision of test kits that could confirm suspected cases in major hospitals in the country, including all the Federal Medical Centres in various states. We cannot afford to lose lives, perhaps through curable malaria fever, just because of unfounded fear of Ebola.
The challenge of finding a cure for the dreaded disease should be met through deliberate funding of indigenous research. If Nigeria is able to shout eureka in its quest for an indigenous drug for Ebola, the nation will not only curtail capital flight through imports but also earn foreign exchange through the exportation of the drug. And the nation’s global integrity level is sure to soar higher, in addition to the fact that the world has doffed its hat for Nigeria following its victory over the invading virus.