Since the Ebola virus fear caught up with Nigerians, especially residents of Lagos, the prevailing situation showed that the nation has no emergency response plan in place. Worse still is the fact that information was not immediately given from the appropriate quarters, and in this instance, from the medical professionals.
When news sketches got to the public domain at the initial stage of the Ebola virus scare in Nigeria, the state authorities were quick to say that the hospital where Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian who came into the country with the disease and who eventually died some days later, had been checked and cleared that the case was properly handled. Behold, the nurse on duty who attended to the deceased also died days later, while a female doctor was also confirmed to have been infected with the virus.
While the general public went about their daily activities, with no clear-cut information and education about the true situation of a looming fast-killer disease, rumours on how wild the disease could spread were peddled. Other people latched on to foreign news media to keep an update of how bad the disease was ravaging the populations in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
While these lasted, no concrete measures were taken to set any emergency team to work. The populace lived blind-folded from the real situation on ground until it started dawning on people that a lot more damage may have been done.
It takes us back to the issue of a nation that is never prepared for emergencies of any kind. Ideally, there should be a public health emergency structure that should be pro-active enough to understand how important it is to respond to even rumours, let alone verifiable information about a disease and how wild it can get and wipe out a population if not properly handled.
Ideally, an emergency public health response structure would have defined roles and responsibilities for different categories of health and social workers across federal, state and local areas. There should be a team of public health information communicators who would disseminate useful information to the public repeatedly and where and how help could be sought should there be any suspected cases.
The structure ordinarily should be such that would assess the risk level and who would be more susceptible to the problem and how best they could be given help. The essence is to ensure that as much as emergency situations should be prevented, good planning should be able to reduce and control the effect on the population.
On the case at hand with the deceased Liberian who came into the country, a risk profile should have been immediately established to clearly show those came in contact with him, quarantine them to cut off further spread through new contacts.
While health responder personnel at the Lagos hospital where the late Sawyer was admitted for treatment were easily identified, they had gone in contact with their friends and family members, exposing a larger chain of persons to risk of the disease. Sadly, the incident broke out while the doctors’ strike was on and the medical body, after a number of days, set up a team of doctors to attend to this kind of emergency situation that demands greater efforts to contain.
It was obvious that the stream of efforts that started coming in days after the death of the Liberian and the Nigerian nurse were only a scratch on the surface, considering the porous nature of our borders. Agreed that ECOWAS liberalization policy encourages easy movement across the sub-region, the country should have been sensitive enough to restrict movement into the country from neighbouring West African countries. This will only be to prevent the spread of the disease. As far as we know, we have always been caught ‘pants down’ in limbo in very many emergency situations.
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