PANIC has overtaken many homes over the latest scourge. Nothing dominates discussions these days like Ebola, the virus that defies cure, and appears to defy diagnosis until the patient is at death’s gate.
All the symptoms are normal for most Nigerians. We have regular bouts of fever from either malaria or typhoid or both. We sweat from our high humidity, whether during the rainy season or dry weather. Our eyes acquire features that could have resulted from malnutrition. We are Ebola suspects in many ways.
Enough grounds exist for the panic. People infected die quickly. Those who make contact with them are the next in the line-up for death. Here comes a virus that kills the infected and infects caregivers, unless they take adequate care.
Adequate care is impossible, considering that the patients’ status is not known until much later. Once patients exhibit symptoms of Ebola, there are high chances that relations and hospital staff would desert them. These fears are genuine.
Governments in Lagos and Abuja have done very well in spreading information on the virus. There is more work ahead. The outbreak of the virus shows again the poor state of our medical facilities. Only a few of them can detect the virus, still fewer are equipped to prevent spread of infection to their staff and other patients.
How many Nigerians know about Ebola? How many can protect themselves? Exploitation of the situation has started. The telecommunications companies have transferred their unsolicited messages to Ebola, asking their clients to subscribe to information on the virus at a cost. We would have expected that with the billions they make as profit, they would have run the messages as public service announcements.
One of the things that gave the virus more global attention is the infection of two American charity workers Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. They are currently under treatment with experimental drugs that other countries are asking should be extended to them.
Three leading Ebola experts, among them Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-discovered the virus in 1976, asked that the drug be made more widely available.
“It is highly likely that if Ebola were now spreading in Western countries, public health authorities would give at-risk patients access to experimental drugs or vaccines,” according to the joint statement in a newspaper. “The African countries where the current outbreaks of Ebola are occurring should have the same opportunity.”
The World Health Organisation’s special meeting next week would explore using experimental drugs in West Africa.
For Nigerians, Ebola, a virus that thrives in dirty environments, is also a call to clean up Nigeria and upgrade our medical facilities.