I am writing these words as I watch what is probably the highest concentration of Europeans in the UK….at the exit/entrance point of the Eurostar train at St Pancras Station, London.
I am surrounded by recognisable Spanish, Italian, French and German dialects and a few unknown ones, probably Polish and Romanischte.
No, I am not traveling to mainland Europe; I am waiting for a train to Leeds.
As I sit amidst this voluminous human traffic, I marvel at the open borders and welcoming arms of this great country, England.
In the last two hours, despite the media frenzy on Ebola Fever, 300 Nigerians have disembarked from a Virgin jet and walked unhindered and unrestricted into the UK, free to go and do as we please within the confines of the Law.
Yet, only a few days ago, a fellow African country, who shares no immediate border with us and whose Health Infrastructure is no where as developed as ours….has banned Nigerian passengers and Nigerian flights into its territory!
If my Geography is correct, they may even be closer to the Ebola River than we are!
A Nigerian proverb states that we should keep our eyes open while we shed tears.
Indeed, we had some divine intervention (luck) with the index Ebola case….
The man collapsed and needed hospitalisation immediately on arrival on our shores, had he spent a few more hours in town or made it to his conference city the consequences would have been devastating. Equally, had there been no doctors strike, the likelihood would have been a transfer from the airport to the nearby LASUTH.
His admission process in this teaching hospital environment would have caused more direct contacts and a greater public health hazard.
But, aside from the luck, credit must be given to the Lagos State Government for its calculated, military style response, despite many limitations, to the immediate threat posed by this index individual to a city of 20 million and our nation of 120 million plus.
However, Governor Fashola and Dr Jide Idris swung into action thus: They crash-trained lab technicians and civil servants on how to enter a house and check for the Ebola virus.
In four days, they turned an abandoned government building into an isolation unit.
In a week they managed to find and cold-call scores of people from blue-collar workers to diplomats who may have touched the index case, Patrick Sawyer
Within days they procured necessary PPE gear to protect health workers.
They put out a massive and coordinated public education and awareness campaign. All officials pushed the same message with the same emphasis, factual and unemotional.
When the government received the passenger list for Mr. Sawyer’s flight, contact information was missing for 18 of the flight’s 48 passengers. All officials had were names and nationalities. Nothing else.
The airline tracked down some passengers by calling the ticket agents that booked the flight, while government officials found others by contacting local Embassies.
A crew of volunteers set about cold-calling people with the frightening news they might have Ebola.
They sent nurses, lab technicians and civil servants into homes to deliver forms for potential carriers to fill out twice daily, asking about fever and other symptoms.
They have recruited hundreds of volunteers, with good remuneration and life insurance, to handle complex contact tracing, barrier nursing, infection control and critical care management.
We had never treated one single case of Ebola in Nigeria before, and doctors were on strike.
The Lagos State authorities deserve some praise.
According to the Wall Street Journal : “What is clear, though is that hundreds more lives could have been saved if more West African governments acted as Lagos did.”
Of course, all this would not have been possible or achievable without the input of, and partnership with, the Federal Ministry of Health and its extensive national and international contacts.
Prof. Onyebuchi and Dr Idris, both doctors themselves, have facilitated the early curtailment of the spread of this deadly virus.
It is my view, and prayer, that Nigeria can and will contain Ebola.