By Job Osazuwa
Ebola is back in Africa! It is no longer news that the much deadly and dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is back on the shores of Africa. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently declared the outbreak of EVD in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and that the virus has claimed four lives in the country’s North East.
One could be tempted to ask how the outbreak should be Nigeria’s business, but not many had forgotten how the highly contagious virus was imported to Nigeria on July 20, 2014 by a certain Liberian, the late Patrick Sawyer and the devastating blow it dealt on Africa generally.
Three years down the line, and just when the continent thought the war was finally won, the unwarranted news broke again. Since April 22, there have been 37 suspected Ebola cases and four deaths, as revealed by the WHO and confirmed at the DRC’s National Biomedical Research Institute through the blood samples tested.
The latest cases, which had spread panic across the continent, were found in Bas-Uele province, in the Likati district – a remote area of the northern part of Congo.
Swiftly swinging into action, the WHO representative in the DRC, Dr. Yokouidé Allarangar, stressed the need for contact tracing to help in containing the epidemic. He disclosed, in a statement, that the country would rely on experienced health workers for the purpose.
It is worthy to note that Nigeria was able to curtail the spread of the virus through local and international combined efforts, after the Liberian diplomat knowingly imported the deadly disease to the country.
From the first confirmed case recorded on March 23, 2014, nearly 29, 000 people in Africa were suspected to have been infected. And at the end of the quarantine and treatment periods, 11,325 people reportedly died from the virus, including seven Nigerians.
The last outbreak of Ebola in the DRC was in 2014, where more than 40 people reportedly died. It was, indeed, a sigh of relief to all when, on January 13, 2016, WHO declared the last of the countries affected – Liberia –Ebola-free.
From the fresh cases, out of the nine people suspected to have contracted the virus, three had died, with one case of Ebola confirmed through tests at the national laboratory in the country’s capital city, Kinshasa.
Allarangar said: “People began to get sick on or after 22 April in Bas-Uele province in the country’s far north.”
The region affected, which is close to the border with the Central African Republic lies 1,300km (800 miles) north-east of Kinshasa.
The Congo health authority is currently carrying contact tracing on 416 people who came in contact with the confirmed cases.
Lending his voice to the unhealthy development, WHO Congo’s spokesman, Eric Kabambi, said the country was a little lucky, as the area where the disease resurfaced was very forested and remote. He, however, gave assurance that different authorities were not leaving any stone unturned to nip the outbreak in the bud.
WHO has described the outbreak as “a public health crisis of international importance.” It quickly dispatched its first teams of experts, including epidemiologists, biologists and hygiene specialists to the affected area.
Corroborating WHO’s position, a Public Health Consultant, Adegbite Ogundele, told Daily Sun that inability to effectively manage the virus could cause it to spread to other neighbouring countries. He warned that it could be more destructive this time if proper health cautions and actions were not taken by individuals and constituted authorities.
Said he: “I strongly believe the Nigerian governments have a major role to play by being at the forefront. They need to be proactive in dealing with the issue. At this point, I expect a complete surveillance at every entry points from the affected region to Nigeria.
“Prevention will cost little in managing the crisis. Even countries that have sophisticated medical equipment are yet to find the exact cure to Ebola, let alone Nigeria. Of course Nigerians should improve their personal hygiene. Ebola is not an airborne disease, but contracted through physical, blood, urine and faeces contacts.”
Nigeria on red alert
Many Nigerians, who received the news of the resurgence of the disease as a shock, have called on the Federal Government to increase its surveillance on its airports and borders in order to avoid a repeat of the Sawyer’s saga.
Yielding to call, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has assured Nigerians of adequate scrutiny at the nation’s airports following the reawakening of Ebola in the DRC.
Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, FAAN’s Acting General Manager, Corporate Affairs, said though there was no direct flight from Congo to Nigeria, all the preventive measures already established at the airports were still in place. According to her, the port health officials were at alert in all airports, adding that the authority had also informed them of the need to increase surveillance.
She said: “We only have direct flights from Rwanda, but I want to assure members of the public that we still have all preventive measures in place at our airports. There are sanitisers at our arrivals with the scanning apparatus called thermal scanners being installed by the Port Health Services.
“The scanners have camera monitors that display pictures aside the capturing of temperature. Passengers still fill that form to ensure that everybody arriving the country through our airports are not potential carriers of deadly diseases. So, there is no cause for alarm,” she said.
Similarly, knowing that the dangerous virus can cause haemorrhagic fever, Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, directed Nigerian health workers to screen patients with abnormal fever for Ebola.
The spokesperson for of the ministry, Bolade Akinola, said the minister urged the public to observe high levels of personal hygiene, including regular hand washing, and to report all cases of fever to the nearest health facility.
“The Federal Government has directed port health officials to step up inspection activities and to report any sick person or suspects to ensure that Epidemiologists in the states conduct relevant tests,” he said.
The symptoms to look out for include: fever, fatigue, severe headache, weakness dizziness and muscle aches. Patients with more severe cases show bleeding under the skin, vomiting, internal organs or even from bodily orifices like mouth, nose and ears.
According to experts, symptoms may appear anytime from two to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is eight to 10 days.
People are advised to endeavour to avoid areas of known outbreaks, wash hands frequently and avoid bush meat. Also of importance is taking precautions and avoiding direct contact with infected people. There is said to be no known treatment for Ebola. Survivors and experts said symptoms of Ebola and complications are treated as they appear.
No need to panic
On the contrary, the BBC Global Health correspondent, Tulip Mazumdar, said while the outbreak might appear extremely worrying for communities in the affected remote part, it was important to remember that the Congo had stamped out more Ebola outbreaks than any other countries.
DR Congo was able to bring an end to its epidemic within four months unlike in some West Africa countries, which took them two years.
Ebola was first identified in DR Congo (then Zaire) in 1976. Since then, there have been at least nine outbreaks in the country. The last in 2014, which affected other African countries, is said to be the worst in history.