Following the death of the matron that was one of the primary contacts of the late American-Liberian, Mr. Patrick Sawyer, who died recently of Ebola Virus Disease, EVD, in Lagos, Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, has described the presence of Ebola in the country as a national emergency.
Chukwu made this known when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Health. He said: ?The fact that a Liberian victim of the disease, Mr. Patrick Sawyer could come and die in Nigeria meant that the virus was a global threat.
?This is a national emergency. Everyone in the world today is at risk. The experience of Nigeria opens the eyes of the world,? he said.
In Lagos, the state government has appealed to religious organizations including churches and mosques to step down on congregational activities that will bring a large number of worshippers together.
Making the appeal in Lagos, yesterday, while confirming the matron?s death as the first Nigerian fatality of EVD, state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris said the appeal became necessary in the wake of heightened anxiety over the threat posed by the Ebola virus which is transmitted from human-to-human by body contact.
Stressing that the female doctor who tested positive to the virus initially, is still alive, while six other contacts have since tested positive, Idris, who outlined the move as one of the measures being taken by government to address the situation said: ?I seize this opportunity to appeal to Churches and Mosques to stop all religious gatherings, so as to prevent further spread of the virus .? He explained that at such gatherings, sweating and body contacts were most likely to occur.
The appeal came on the heels of an announcement by the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, banning delegates from EVD-affected West African nations, from attending the church?s ongoing convention, which opened Monday night at the church?s Redemption Camp along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
Addressing a capacity crowd at the convention, Adeboye expressed regret over the decision to bar members of the Church in the affected nations but prayed that God would soon arrest the situation.
The development came two days after a Nigerian female doctor tested positive to the Ebola virus.
Earlier, in Abuja, Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, while announcing the death of the nurse at a press briefing, said: ?Yesterday (Tuesday), August 5, 2014, the first known Nigerian to die of the EVD was recorded and this was one of the nurses that attended to the Liberian. The other five cases are currently being treated at the isolation ward in Lagos.
?Nigeria has now recorded seven confirmed cases of Ebola virus. The first one was the index case ? the imported case from Liberia of which the victim is now late.
?All the Nigerians diagnosed of the Ebola virus were primary contacts of the index case.
?The 24/7 Emergency Operation Centre which I intimated you of in my last press conference will be fully functional tomorrow (today).
?It will be headed by Dr. Faisal Shuaibu as the Incident Manager. He will later today (yesterday) lead a six-man inter-agency team drawn from National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, the US CDC, the WHO, UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Lagos to complete the setting up of the Centre.?
The team includes medical personnel from the Lagos State Government and experts from federal hospitals in the Lagos area as well as the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.
Already, government has appointed a Director of Communication and Community Mobilization , Prof. O. Onajole, of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. He will be based in Lagos.
Chukwu noted that government is embarking on recruiting additional health personnel to strengthen the team who are currently managing the situation in Lagos.
He said there were plans to procure relevant equipment for management of the patients.
?We are making arrangements to procure isolation tents to quicken the pace of providing isolation wards in all the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Terrority.?
Government is also setting up a special team to provide counselling and psychological support to patients, identified contacts and their families.
Two contacts in critical condition
In Lagos, the state government confirmed that two of the primary contacts who tested positive to EVD, are in critical condition. The government also announced life insurance cover for doctors and other health workers who volunteer to work with experts monitoring and testing suspected and confirmed cases of EVD.
Giving an update of the response in Lagos, Idris, who described the situation as extremely dire, explained that the late nurse died at 2:06 pm on Tuesday, making her the first Nigerian to have died of the deadly disease.
Further, he explained that the late nurse was admitted at a critical stage and was said to have had direct contact with the late Sawyer.
Urgent need for volunteer health workers
It was gathered that presently, the state government is facing acute shortage of medical experts including doctors and health workers needed to attend to those that have been infected and those that will be isolated for monitoring.
?We need more hands, because we have moved from the stage of primary contacts to secondary contacts. More volunteers are urgently needed especially contact trackers and case management personnel.
?Government is willing to take care of such volunteers especially in the following areas- safety to personal health; life insurance cover and whatever genuine need/assurance that may also be required,? the commissioner stated.
Stressing that the situation is quite critical, Idris assured: ?We will provide life insurance for any doctor, nurse and other expert that wants to work with isolated patients. We are tracing all the people that had contact not just with Sawyer, but those that had contacts with the health workers and others that have died.
?We need volunteers now, and this is needed urgently to assist in tracking the contacts and to manage those who were already in isolation. This is the only way we can give those who have the virus the opportunity to survive.
?We need doctors, nurses and environmental health workers. Because this is a serious issue, the Governor Babatunde Fashola administration has accepted to give whatever those whom I mentioned earlier demanded for including life insurance.
?I can assure them of safety, and we will put them through the entire necessary prerequisite for safety. If we cannot provide the needed health workers within the country to manage the cases, foreigners will be unwilling to help.?
Already, it was gathered that government has begun the process of life insurance cover with an insurance company.
Explaining why more hands are needed urgently, Idris said 27 secondary contacts have been identified and addresses of others are being traced.
?It is a tedious task, because we will also be taking their blood samples for testing and we will be monitoring them.?
Appealing to doctors to call off their strike, he said it will be morally unjustifiable for Nigeria to seek assistance from foreign medical practitioners when the country?s local doctors are unwilling to render services.
?We are appealing to the doctors on strike to resume work and set aside their grievances. No doubt this situation is a dire emergency and our health professionals must recognize that. It will be morally unjustifiable for us to call for help from the international community if our own experts and doctors are not working.?
Cases so far
He explained that ?of the 70 persons, results of five out of eight blood samples taken have been received with four testing positive while the fifth was negative, one died out of the eight, two critically ill and results of three still outstanding.?
Further, the state government called on businessmen not to hike prices of materials needed for health workers to carry out their operations in the course of managing victims of the virus. Materials such as gloves, decontamination equipment, chemicals and sanitizers are not expected to be cashed-in upon.
On managing positive cases, he said the treatment given to the patient depends on the symptom being developed by the patient. He explained further that the treatment was supportive for the patients.
Call for vigilance
Calling for vigilance, Idris reiterated: ?Once again I allay the fears of health workers who have the requisite expertise needed to manage these confirmed and probable cases. This is a call for vigilance as human-to-human transmission is only achieved by physical contact with a person who is acutely and gravely ill (fever being a key sign) from Ebola virus through body fluids such as blood, urine, stool, saliva, breast milk, semen, and vomitus.
?In Africa, infection has also occurred through handling of infected chimpanzees, monkeys, gorillas, fruit bats, antelopes and porcupines. No case of transmission by domestic animals has been reported.
Warning on burials
The state government has also urged the public to approach burial ceremonies and handling of corpses in line with recommendations of the World Health Organisation, WHO, for handling bodies of victims of EVD.
?Burial ceremonies where mourners including family members have direct contact with patients who died of Ebola have also played a role in the spread and direct contact with dead bodies should be minimized at this period, even as washing and burial /disposal of such bodies should be professionally handled with safety to personal health of handlers being a cardinal focus.
?We also count on the cooperation of the good people of Lagos State. In partnership with the Federal Government we may need to, in the course of taking decisions in the overriding interest of the public, institute measures that may be inconvenient to some people.?
Ebola Unit at LASUTH
He explained that if government needs to bring suspected cases of Ebola to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, ?we will do it because these are suspects and they cannot be left in the communities for even greater risks. We are weighing all options now, he added.
Debunking rumours making the rounds, Idris explained that government is doing what is needed to save lives of the people already infected and also to stop the spread.
Evacuation of TB patients
Idris said plans are on to evacuate tuberculosis patients receiving treatment at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Yaba to another hospital in order to accommodate more suspected and isolated EVD cases.
?The TB patients at Mainland Hospital were protesting this morning but we appealed to them, that if they stay there they may be exposed and get infected.
? If we need to evacuate any hospital to ensure that we contain this disease, we will do it. If we have to take suspected cases to LASUTH, we will do it. If we need to take decisions that will be inconvenient for some people but beneficial to the larger population, we will do it. Ebola is a highly infectious disease. We will do it to contain it.?
On why the primary contacts were heavily infected, he explained that initially the workers were not adequately kitted and the late Liberian victim was economical with the truth.
?We never knew that late Patrick (Sawyer) was already under surveillance in his country. It was later we gathered that he was already advised not to travel and the health workers were not adequately kitted.?
Idris said that the government has applied the World Health Organization, WHO procedures to handling body of corpse who died of the virus.
Minister briefs House
Meanwhile, the Federal Government is awaiting the response of the request it made last night to the Centre for Disease Control, CDC, in the US, for the unapproved Ebola drug ZMapp to treat affected persons in Nigeria.
Describing the presence of Ebola as a national emergency, Minister of Health, Prof Chukwu , who appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Health, stated that the fact that a Liberian victim of the disease, Mr. Patrick Sawyer could come and die in Nigeria meant that the virus was a global threat.
?This is a national emergency. Everyone in the world today is at risk. The experience of Nigeria opens the eyes of the world,? he said, noting that the research credited to the former chairman of INEC, Professor Maurice Iwu on bitter kola in the US was inconclusive and therefore could not be authenticated as a cure for the disease.
Also speaking at the hearing, the Director-General, Nigerian Center for Disease Control, Abdusalam Nasidi revealed that 70 Nigerians in the course of their official duties were suspected to have directly or indirectly had contact with the American-Liberian, Sawyer.
He said there were 39 hospital contacts, nine laboratory scientists contact and 22 airport contacts. He said that the people were under strict surveillance.