By Sola Ogundipe, Health Editor, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Chioma Obinna, Lawani Mikairu, Victoria Ojeme, Monsur Olowoopejo, Raphael Izokpu & Gabriel Olawale
ABUJA—The Federal Government has confirmed the first case of Ebola Virus Disease in a Nigerian medical doctor, who was among the people that had the first contact with Mr. Patrick Sawyer, the deceased Liberian and first confirmed Ebola victim in the country.
Late Sawyer, a consultant to the Liberian Finance Ministry was found to be infected with the virus when he arrived Lagos on July 20, 2014. He died in quarantine on July 25 and his body was later cremated.
Disclosing the development to newsmen in Abuja, yesterday, Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu said the new case was as a result of contact the said doctor had with Sawyer at the Lagos hospital, where the Liberian was admitted after he was brought in from the airport.
Also speaking, Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, accompanied by the Director, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Prof. Abdulsalam Nasidi, confirmed that it would be the second reported case of the virus in Nigeria in general and Lagos in particular.
Chukwu, who was inaugurating the Treatment Research Group Committee on Ebola Virus Disease, disclosed: “When we met last week, I told you that we were still monitoring some of the healthcare workers and passengers who came in contact with the American-Liberian who brought in Ebola to Nigeria. There were others who attended to him; some have developed symptoms of Ebola.
As of today, we now have a case; this is the second case of Ebola virus in Nigeria. This is the doctor who attended to the Ebola patient in the Lagos hospital.”
Further, he said: “Three others are under watch; at the end of today (yesterday) we will know the outcome. Eight of those who had contact with Mr. Sawyer have been quarantined, while 70 of those who had contact with the patient are on surveillance.
”All of these persons are being quarantined in Lagos, where the Lagos State Government has provided isolation wards.”
The minister said beyond Lagos State, the Federal Government was working with each state to strengthen isolation wards and emergency coordination of health workforce on Ebola around the borders.
He noted that places like Idiroko and Seme borders have received new directives and equipment to screen persons entering the country without having contact with such persons.
On the aspect of bringing in corpses from Ebola -endemic countries for burial in Nigeria, Chukwu said the Federal Government’s order banning any airline or family members from bringing dead persons from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone was still in force.
”In the case of Imo State, we have carried out the investigation and found out that there is a death certificate and it was not an Ebola case, so we have asked the Commissioner for Health in Imo State to go on with the burial of the person. But for Anambra State and Akwa Ibom states, investigation is still going on. They are still under watch,” he said.
Warning on false cures
Chukwu, who disapproved of the panic being created on social media platforms, contended that contrary to widely-held opinion on social media that Bitter Kola was a suitable cure and as well prevents infection by Ebola virus, the minister stressed that there was no scientific evidence that the use of Bitter Kola cures or prevents Ebola infections.
”There is no proof yet,” he affirmed, noting that such claims emanated from previous “in-vitro research, which is in a test-tube (ongoing) where the samples were obtained from Bitter Kola, and tend to have some activities against Ebola.
Committee on EVD
On the way forward, the Federal Government has inaugurated the Treatment Research Committee on Ebola Virus Disease.
Inaugurating the committee, Chukwu observed that Nigeria must get serious in the area of research as a strategic way of curtailing the spread of the virus.
The committee has the Director-General of the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development NIPRD, Prof. Karniyus Gamaliel and the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, Prof. Innocent Ujah as co-Chairmen Former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Maurice Iwu is a member. Others include Prof. Abdulsalam Nasidi of the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Sani Gwarzo of the Port Health Services, Director of Public Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Bridget Okoeguela and Director of Health Planning and Research, Mrs. Asa Ogu. The terms of reference of the committee include coordination of research on treatment and prevention of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD); receive and verify claims of Ebola disease; to collate all related research findings around the world on Ebola and advise government as may be appropriate on the matter.
Isolation & treatment centres
Speaking in Lagos, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, added that the state has established isolation and treatment centres to hospitalise the patients for strict surveillance.
“From our activities to stem the spread of Ebola virus in Nigeria, another patient has tested positive for the virus. The female doctor is one of the eight persons who were under critical surveillance and care for having contact with the late Liberian, Mr. Patrick Sawyer, who died after being infected by the virus.
“The state has established an isolation and treatment centre to hospitalise this patient. The staff at this Centre have also been trained on how to treat and handle the patients under their care. The hospital is also provided with enough facilities to ensure that the officials and other patients do not contact the virus.
“The patients under our surveillance were those who had personal contact with the late Liberian. And the Rapid Response Team, RRT, had been in communication with these patients who developed fever and other symptoms.
“We will not stop in tracking all those who had contact with the late Liberian. The contact remains in isolation until the confirmatory results are in and those who tested positive for the virus will remain in isolation until they are no longer infectious.”
Idris stated that the secondary cases were expected, given the nature of the contact with the affected people.
“This was because they were unaware of the patient’s status, until the management of the hospital informed the state government of the development.”
Patient is alive
Nasidi, when asked about the identity of the victim, declined to mention the name of the latest victim but confirmed it was a female doctor.
“We will not be able to release the name of the new contact but we know that the person is a doctor and a female.
“The patient is not dead. She is alive. Experts from the local and international organisations are attending to the patient. Of the eight that are under intensivesurveillance, tests are still ongoing on others.”
Appeal to NMA: The joint Federal and state medical team therefore, appealed to Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, to call off the ongoing nationwide strike in the interest of the general public.
“Given the state of the outbreak of Ebola virus in Lagos State, we are appealing to the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA who are on strike to please sheath their sword and call off their strike; join our team to fight this scourge.
“We will also welcome volunteer from the health profession and those who accept volunteer shall be given incentive. We also appeal to residents to support the government in fighting the scourge,” Idris stated.
Reactions: In a reaction to the development, a professor of Medicine and Former Direcor Human Resources West African Health Organisation, WAHO, Prof. Kayode Odusote, noted: “I’m concerned about anything that happens as a result because the man that came from Liberia and the trail of events. “We know the risk is there because of frequent travel and both the public and health workers must be prepared to pick up the first signs of this infection. Let us be prepared and not have a repeat of what happened in Liberia where there was denial at the beginning.
Odusote, this exemplifies what we have been saying that anybody that has contact with a victim must report to the quarantine unit at once. Don’t wait. What this means is that we have to be vigilant. The earlier the signs can be picked up, the better. Anyone who has had contact with Ebola victim and is exhibiting any of the signs should just quarantine himself of herself so as not to put their family and the public in danger,” he affirmed
Also speaking,. National President Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners, AGPMPN, Dr. Anthony Omolola, stated that the development was a signal. “It is a signal that we have a challenge on our hands now knowing full well that the mortality with Ebola is as high as 90 percent.
“Government should put all its apparatus into ensuring that the disease does not spread in Nigeria. And the political will must be doubled now. There must be serious enlightenment programme now about Ebola virus. The treatment itself and there must be a very serious campaign, jingles in different languages and different media. It should also be ensured that all contacts with the late Patrick Sawyer has to under serious surveillance to ensure that there are no further contacts.
Another Ebola suspect flown in: Another Ebola victim was yesterday allegedly brought in to Muritala Muhammed International Airport Lagos, from Ghana. The victim identified as Mr Nwosu Nnaji was allegedly flown on aboard Arik Air flight from Ghana which landed at about 12.00 noon.
But a top official of Arik Air who was contacted, but pleaded anonymity, said the airline has stopped going to Ebola infested countries and that the airline could not have allowed an Ebola victim to be on their flight. Efforts to speak with the General Manager, Public Affairs, Arik Air, Mr Ola Adebanji failed as his mobile numbers were switched off.
A Port Health official at the Lagos when contacted to speak on the issue said all enquiries on Ebola should be directed to Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN. But the Coordinating General Manager, Public Affairs , Aviation Parastatals, Mr. Yakubu Dati did not pick his calls when contacted.
Meawhile, death toll from the world’s worst Ebola outbreak had risen to 887 by August 1, while the total number of cases in the four West African countries affected stood at 1,603 on the same date, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.
Guinea has suffered the highest death toll with 358 fatalities out of 485 confirmed Ebola cases so far. Sierra Leone has had the largest number of cases, 646 overall, and 273 deaths, while Liberia has had 468 cases and 255 deaths.
Nigeria, the latest country to import the disease, has had four cases, of which three are classed as ‘probable’ Ebola and one as ‘suspected’, the Geneva-based agency said in a statement.
The case of Patrick Sawyer, an American who died shortly after flying from Liberia at Lagos airport via Togo and Ghana, is still classed as “probable”. The WHO previously said it had not managed to check his sample because courier companies had refused to transport it to the Institut Pasteur in Dakar.
The other two probable Ebola cases in Nigeria were a health-care worker and a Nigerian who had been to Guinea, WHO said.
Nigeria itself has reported only the cases of Sawyer and, on Monday, one of the doctors who treated him. International financial institutions are preparing funding packages for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea hard hit by the deadly Ebola virus, development bank officials said on Monday as African leaders gathered for the first day of a U.S. summit.
African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka told Reuters his institution would immediately disburse $50 million to the three countries where government resources and health systems are being stretched by the worst outbreak of the virus.
The World Bank is set to announce funding for each of the countries after approval by its board, bank officials said. “We’re putting together a substantial emergency package for the three countries and will announce it early this week,” a bank official said. The funding is part of a $100 million emergency response plan launched by the World Health Organization last week. WHO chief Margaret Chan has warned that Ebola was outpacing efforts to contain it and warned of “catastrophic” consequences if the situation deteriorated.
Sierra Leone and Liberia deployed troops on Monday under an emergency plan to fight the spread of the virus. The latest outbreak began in the forests of remote eastern Guinea in February. On Monday, Nigeria’s health minister reported a second case of Ebola in Lagos in a doctor who treated U.S. patient Patrick Sawyer, who died last month. The impact of the outbreak and assistance for affected countries to try to contain it will be discussed on the sidelines of the African Summit attended by nearly 50 African leaders, U.S. official said.