By Sola Ogundipe
The battle between the love for football and the fear of Ebola will be on display as the friendly football match between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Leopards of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, holds tomorrow.
Anxiety and cautious optimism continue to trail the upcoming event over the outbreak of the Ebola Virus disease, EVD, in the DRC, with reports repeatedly indicating that the disease is spreading in the Central African country.
Despite assurances from the Federal Ministry of Health and National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, that appropriate measures and precautions are in place to ensure the Ebola virus is not imported into the country, concerns continue to make the rounds.
Dismissal of these concerns by medical experts have not fully convinced many Nigerians who argue that the match ought to have been postponed or cancelled in the face of the DRC Ebola outbreak, coupled with the crisis- ridden Nigerian health sector that is currently crippled by a health workers strike.
Last week, three patients under treatment for Ebola fever escaped from a Congolese hospital, to seek spiritual treatment in churches. The development further spread the disease within the populace, and fuelled existing doubts that the match should not take place.
Also last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the DRC Ebola outbreak as sitting on an “epidemiological knife-edge”, warning that the epidemic had potential to spread internationally.
Findings by Sunday Vanguard show that despite anxieties, football is an effective tool in engaging the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease. One of the strengths of football is its ability to eliminate borders and unify opponents.
In 2014, world football governing body, FIFA, the Confederation of African Football, CAF, and international health experts united to promote simple health messages tagged the “11 Against Ebola Messages” through selected world class football stars to help fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa under the slogan “We Can Beat Ebola Together.”
The history of international football matches and countries experiencing Ebola outbreaks goes back to January 2014, when CAF turned down requests from Morocco to postpone or cancel matches involving countries affected by Ebola in that year’s African Cup of Nations tournament.
Expectedly, sports events such as football attract large crowds which could fuel the spread of the disease. There had been fears by the host country about the possibility of influx of football supporters into the country that could spread the Ebola virus which eventually killed over 11,000 people globally.
In August 2014, during the peak of the West African Ebola outbreak, the CAF relocated all matches of the Africa Cup of Nations from Sierra Leone and Guinea as a result of the outbreak of Ebola.
The Liberian Football Association also ceased all operations of football activities out of consideration that football is a contact sport and Ebola is spread through contact with the body fluids of an infected person. A week later, the Sierra Leonean Football Authority also cancelled all football matches as part of effort to stop the spread of the disease.
However, in September 2014, the Nigerian under-17 National football team was barred from flying to Libreville for a crucial match by Gabonese authorities over the Ebola incident in Nigeria. Nigeria protested to the CAF, but nothing was done about the incident.
To ensure no case of Ebola is recorded, it is important to ensure the “11 Against Ebola Messages” are well disseminated.
The 11 against Ebola messages:
*Report unusual illnesses: please report any unusual illnesses or deaths in your community.
*Know the symptoms: do you have a fever with a loss of appetite, headache, fatigue, pain, vomiting, bleeding or diarrhoea? Know the symptoms of Ebola.
*Seek immediate medical help: please seek urgent medical help if you have a fever with additional symptoms.
*Avoid body contact: avoid direct, skin and body contact with anyone suffering from Ebola.
*Wash your hands and disinfect: wash your hands regularly and disinfect anything touched by suspected or confirmed Ebola sufferers.
*Wear proper protection: wear gloves and proper protective clothing if you are caring for an Ebola sufferer, and get the right instruction for the use of protective clothing.
*Cook meat properly: cook all meat and animal products thoroughly before consumption.
*Always practise safe sex: use protection if you are having sex with anyone recovering from Ebola.
*Avoid contact with wild animals and bats: wild animals and bats can carry the Ebola virus. Avoid them.
*Do not touch the dead: avoid direct contact with dead Ebola victims or anyone who has died from a strange disease.
*Seek help for safe burials: please seek help from local authorities to bury any victims of Ebola or strange diseases.