Monday, 4 August 2014


It's been almost two weeks now since the news of the deadly virus,  Ebola, hit Nigeria and the level of fear is unbelievable. Lots of information (true and false) suddenly showed up on the media and the streets. Before I go into the possible reasons for the fear amongst Nigerians, let me take a moment to share some basic information about this deadly virus. 

The Ebola virus

Ebola is a haemorrhagic disease caused by the Ebola virus, it was named after the Ebola river where the first outbreaks occurred in 1976 in the democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). It kills about 90% of its victims, is transmitted through contact with body secretions like sweat, saliva, urine, faeces, blood and semen through broken skin or mucous membrane. It has an incubation period (time of infection to manifestation of symptoms) of 2 -21 days. Patients become contagious when they are symptomatic. Symptoms initially begin with flu - like symptoms like catarrh, cough, then the patient develops fever, joint and muscle pains, sore throat, headache, weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea. A patient at this stage could easily be mistaken as having malaria.  At the terminal stages, the patient may develop internal or external bleeding from orifices (nose, mouth, ears e.t.c.) Women may experience heavy and irregular menstruation. It's primary hosts are animals like apes,  monkeys, fruit bats, even antelopes and porcupines.  Transmission from animals to man is also via contact, by handling these animals dead or alive. Prevention is by proper hand washing with soap and water, use of sanitizers, gloves and protective gears; avoidance unnecessary contact like handshakes; washing your fruits and vegetables properly before consumption; be alert and report any suspicious cases; lastly, fast, hands- off burial practices.

So, in a discussion somedays ago, someone asked a question and this is how it went, "if given a choice to choose between HIV, cancer or Ebola, which would you choose? Without wasting much time, I heard the response from someone else in the discussion,  "HIV". The reason for that answer was this; "people are now living comfortably with the disease, provided they follow the rules, they will be fine and they don't die within a month. That response took me back to a time when HIV was the most dreaded disease in Nigeria. HIV, the reason why lots of people committed suicide, the reason for so much stigmatisation, is now more desirable in comparison to the Ebola virus.  Now you can only begin to imagine the level of fear that struck Nigerians when the diagnosis of Ebola disease was made on the Liberian man -Patrick Sawyer 2 weeks ago.

When I heard of the probable outbreak of Ebola in Nigeria, my initial reaction was "why the hell did the Liberians allow their citizens leave their country? " Then, I thought "No, why didn't the Nigerian government shut down the airports to the affected countries as a preventive measure?" Anyway, whatever my reactions were is irrelevant now as the virus is already in the country. Right now, the next thought in my head is what do we do? You see, Nigerians are not the best when it comes to emergency response.  In fact, I really don't think we know the meaning of the words emergency preparation. Remember the floods of 2013,  how did the response to that go?  The general gist was that the government had been informed weeks earlier that a neighbouring country would be opening their dams, and Nigeria should put measures in place to cub any flooding.  I daresay, the level of response to that warning was at 0 level,  and the emergency response when the floods did ensue was at -0 level. So, now you understand that saying terror has struck Nigerians is actually an understatement. We are petrified! If the government couldn't so much as manage a disaster as flooding,  can someone please tell me how they hope to effectively combat a disease as virulent as Ebola?

At a time like this, I don't know if I should be thankful that the medical doctors are on strike. Most doctors know what to do theoretically,  but with the health sector as poor as it is, their hands are tied. The only disease similar to the Ebola, that we have had cause to manage is Lassa fever which is endemic to certain parts of the country. Now, the small doctors who know what to actually do are on strike, and the big oga doctors at the top,  all them commissioners,  directors and ministers of health who have been so out of touch, I wonder if they know the current treatment of malaria are in charge. We are in hot soup for sure. So tell me folks, how do you prevent a disease like Ebola in a country like Nigeria, where everyone's way of greeting is hugs and handshakes? A country where a simple procedure like quarantine is a big deal, a country where anything goes. A place where contact tracing for patients with tuberculosis is next to impossible.

As always, the first reaction to any bad news is denial. At the beginning, almost everyone said "it is yet to be confirmed, he's just a suspect because he's a Liberian". Then, it was confirmed and he passed on.  The story changed to "well no other person has been diagnosed of it, we'll do our best to keep it that way". They decide to spread the news of stop eating bush meat. For goodness sake Ebola is not endemic to Nigeria unless the animals from the affected countries cross over. The news begin to circulate in the media, whether WHO or United States said it or not.

I've actually been meaning to write this post for sometime now, but what actually prompted me into writing today is the treatment metted on me by the airline. An airline from which my wristwatch was stolen from inside my checked in luggage oh! (Story for another day). So I was flying back from Abuja yesterday,  and as the cabin crew carried out their usual take off routine,  I heard an announcement,  "because of the Ebola alert,  we are going to spray you with insecticide. If you are wearing contact lenses or you are allergic to it, we apologise." My jaw literally dropped!  Like for real??!!!.... How does spraying insecticide stop the spread of the disease? It is caused by a virus not an insect! It isn't even transmitted through insect bite. At this point,  I was thoroughly pissed! I just got out my pen and paper and began to write this post. Upon landing, I tried to educate the cabin crew on better ways to prevent the spread of the disease by wearing gloves for instance especially when sharing the food and handling overhead lockers, they should try to seat people with spaces between them especially when the craft is not full. One of the the crew members was glad for the advice,  (intelligent young man), the other one a lady decided to be a wise a**. (Why do women have to be so da***d difficult especially when you are a fellow female trying to correct them?) This is the discussion that ensued between us:

Hostess: what are you guys still doing in the plane? (Addressing her colleague and I)

Colleague: she's telling something useful that could help us as per the Ebola.

Me: I actually said, it would be safer if you shared food wearing gloves, it protects you and I.

Hostess: how would you feel if I served you wearing gloves? (Typical Nigerian way of answering a question or statement in this case with a question - sarcasm).

Me: I'll feel fine, knowing the situation of things in the country,  besides in other affected countries, people wear gloves as a way of life now, even to shake others.

Hostess: I would prefer to give a handshake wearing gloves than share food wearing gloves. If I was given food by someone wearing gloves,  I'll feel bad.

Me: really?  What's the difference?

Hostess: the doctor said we should spray insecticide. (Do you now understand my problem with non-practicing doctors who have no clue what to do?)

Me: your doctor is confused.  I am a doctor.

Colleague: waow!!!

And I walked off the plane. I get home and the story is even much worse. Apparently, my dear "Igbo brothers" have to bury their beloved relative who died in Liberia (cause of death - unknown) in the country. They go ahead to fly in the body. I'm almost certain they'd go ahead and do the proper wake keep where people can freely cry and touch the body and collect. Let me inform you now that the death of the host doesn't mean the death of the virus (a virus has both living and non living characteristics). It can be transmitted through contact with clothings too. Then I heard that the medical doctor that treated the Liberian has been diagnosed with the disease. One dumb Nigerian said it was the ploy of the doctors on strike to get more money. That the medical doctors brought Ebola into the country and would stop at nothing, no matter who gets hurt. Imagine such a response! (  Again our ogas at the top decided that the best way to combat the spread was to visit a prominent church pastor in Nigeria and ask him not to accept sick people from outside the country for healing.  Meanwhile the pastor thinks Ebola is a rumor (http://www.punchng. com/news/ebola-lasg-visits-synagogue-church/).

Dear Nigerians government where are your senses oh! Your sense of safety and obligation? After writing about this and thinking about it for so long,  I begin to ask the question "why doesn't this virus have a vaccine yet?" It's been there for over 3 decades now. Yellow fever is a haemorrhagic disease too yet it has a vaccine.  Is it because Ebola is not yet a pandemic? Then the news about bitter kola being able to inhibit the growth of the virus in the body. I dont know how true this is,  but read this

So since the government is always letting us down, many Nigerians have found ways to relieve the tension. Many faced God (our only true source of hope right now), others decided to make some money through this, while the remainder tried to laugh it off.  Check out photos below

The person I got this from said it was the perfect description of Ebola since its first outbreak was near a river and it is scary.

Right now, I'm worn out, so dear Nigerians, I leave you with this little piece of advice, this is not the time to laugh or joke about everything. Prayer is good, but heaven helps those who help themselves.  Instead of using your phones for irrelevant facebooking and twittering,  go to Google at least and check out ways to help yourself and your community.  For now, it's entirely up to us.


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