Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Following the outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday directed the Federal Ministry of Health to step up surveillance operations at all entry points into the country.
Minister of Health Isaac Adewole briefed State House Correspondents on the development at the end of the council meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
According to him, the Council ordered that steps be taken to keep the Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from spreading to Nigeria.
Part of the new measures to be taken, he said, will be screening passengers coming into the country.
“Of course, of great concern to the Federal Executive Council is the outbreak of Ebola in DR Congo. As you might be aware, over the last one month, DRC recorded 19 suspected cases of Viral Hemorrhagic Fever and lost 16 of the cases. But, what is also particularly important was that, on Monday, blood samples from five patients in a particular district in DRC, in two of the five cases, Ebola was actually confirmed. FEC has now directed the Federal Ministry [of Health] of help to step up emergency surveillance activities at all land and airport borders, so that we can actually keep Nigerians safe,” the Health Minister explained.
“What we will do is to set up an emergency operation center which will be chaired by Dr Babatunde Babasanya, who actually led our efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea during the outbreak in 2014. Not only that, we will be screening incoming passengers, particularly passengers from DRC and neigbouring countries. We will also ensure we step up all activities, screening people coming in so that we will not be caught unawares,” the Minister assured.
“The Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC) will also consider sending some teams to DRC as part of building capacity for managing the outbreak. We want to assure Nigerians that the Federal Government is concerned about the outbreak and will do everything possible to keep the country safe,” he said.
Commenting on the state of public health in country, particularly with intermittent cases of Lassa Fever, Adewale said, “We reported on the situation with Lassa Fever and that we are declaring the emergency phase of Lassa Fever outbreak over. Essentially, that implies that the emergency operating center would be stood down, but that instead of meeting everyday throughout the country, they will now meet once a week. They will still continue surveillance so that if there are cases anywhere in the country we can quickly dictate it and then treat it appropriately.”
Asked if the ongoing strike by Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), came up in the meeting, the Minister said, “Negotiations are still on with Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), and the Minister of Labour is leading the negotiation, and we expect that we will conclude on all issues very soon.”