Rankled by the sweeping spread of the deadly Ebola virus across the West African sub region, where 729 persons have been killed by the affliction, stakeholders in the region have risen in search of a comprehensive strategy to tame the scourge.
To give a boost to the efforts of West African leaders, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has concluded plans to launch a $100 million emergency joint response plan to facilitate the fight against the epidemic.
West African countries are suffering the world's worst-ever Ebola outbreak.
The stakeholders are expected to meet in Guinea today to formally launch the fund.
According to WHO Director General, Margaret Chan, in a statement, “The scale of the Ebola outbreak and the persistent threat it poses requires WHO, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to take the response to a new level.”
WHO said "several hundred" medical personnel needed to be deployed in the affected countries to help overstretched workers and facilities struggling with the epidemic, which has claimed nearly 730 lives.
Those most "urgently" needed are "clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, social mobilisation experts, logisticians and data managers.”
The plan will also bolster efforts to prevent and detect suspected cases, urge better border surveillance, and reinforce WHO's sub-regional outbreak coordination centre in Guinea.
WHO reiterated its estimate that 729 people have died from the Ebola virus infection as at yesterday. The deaths have occurred so far in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since the outbreak started early this year, with a total of 1,323 infections reported.
In a bid to stem the spread, the President of Liberia, Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf, yesterday ordered the closure of all schools in the country, just as the country declared today a public holiday to enable the sanitisation of all public places. She also announced that some communities in the country would be quarantined.
Similarly, Sierra Leonean leader, Ernest Bai Koroma, yesterday declared a state of emergency even as the country comes under heavy burden of containing the deadly epidemic, saying extraordinary challenges require extraordinary measures.
In Nigeria, the federal government yesterday in Abuja, began a sensitisation campaign for the various categories of airport workers drawn from the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, and Nnamdi Azikiwe International (NAIA), Abuja, on the dangers of the deadly Ebola virus.
It was also gathered that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has ordered the screening of passengers from neighbouring West African countries. The exercise described as "temperature screening" is aimed at checking and forestalling the entry of another infected passenger into the country.
In a statement signed by the General Manager Communications, Mr. Yakubu Datti, the parastatal said the awareness drive by the Port Health officials became expedient because of the dangers posed by the virus and how to prevent the spread of the virus in the work place, home and the community.
The sensitisation campaign, he added, was carried out to complement other measures already put in place by the Port Health at the country’s international airports to prevent the presence and spread of the virus.
According to him, “The Director, Port Services of the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Sani Gwarzo, charged aviation stakeholders to be abreast of dangers posed by the virus and how to prevent its spread in the airport.
“At MMIA for example, Port Health personnel have been deployed to the two arrival halls for the purpose of testing arriving passengers for signs and symptoms of the deadly virus. Arriving passengers are to be processed first by Port Health personnel who are expected to carry out necessary tests on every passenger with special devices that do not permit physical contact.”
Those found to be free of any sign or symptom, he said, would proceed to the immigration area for other formalities.
Meanwhile, the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) has disclosed that over 20 specimens of suspected contacts of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) have been received for analysis at its DNA molecular laboratory, since the confirmed case of Patrick Sawyer, the late Liberian, that died of Ebola disease in Lagos on July 25, 2014.
The results of the tests on the samples have been confirmed negative by virologists at the hospital.
Confirming this yesterday, Chief Medical Director, Prof. Akin Osibogun, said: “The samples which are sent from all over the country include mainly those of the late Sawyer’s contacts, while he was being treated.”
However, as the blood and fluid samples keep trooping to LUTH from doctors, Osibogun said none had tested positive except that of the late Liberian.
He confirmed that the hospital had screened at least 20 blood/fluid samples for the deadly Ebola virus, but also admitted that more are being expected. He however said the good thing is that LUTH laboratory has the capacity to tests, which involve high technology.
Continuing, Osibogun said: “The Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), has the capability to make the diagnosis and I am sure you must have heard that the specimens were sent to this hospital and the diagnosis was made in this hospital.
He noted that the disease has an incubation period of two to 21 days. Some manifest earlier, while some manifest late, but between two to 21 days.
He said already, LUTH had set in motion a preparedness team to be able to handle any eventuality arising from an unexpected spread of the disease.
Ebola can kill victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.
Already, the news of the disease has triggered panic across the land and the various state governments are reacting accordingly
In Anambra State for instance, the state government has ordered the shutting down of an hospital where the corpse of a citizen of the state brought in a cargo from Liberia was deposited.
The corpse, it was gathered, was deposited in the hospital's morgue at the weekend by relatives of the deceased who were said to be making arrangement for his burial ceremony.
The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Josephat Akabuike, said in Awka yesterday that the hospital was shut down when an informant from the community who suspected that the corpse must have been a victim of the Ebola disease in Liberia informed the state government that a corpse was brought into the community from the West African country.
He said the informant whom he described as “a good citizen” was aware of the effects of the Ebola disease in Liberia and as a matter of fact was responding to the announcements the state government had been making since the disease became public knowledge.
He said though it has not been confirmed if the man died of Ebola disease, but there was need to take precautionary measures to avert any outbreak of the disease in the state, adding that the state government had already contacted officials of the Federal Ministry of Health, who were still being expected as at yesterday.
“We have collected all the necessary protective garments. We have sealed the hospital and quarantined all the persons, every person that had contact with the corpse, the morticians, the nurses and doctors in the hospital and even the relations of the victim. We are doing this so that they will be screened to make sure they are not infected in any way,” he said.
In Edo State, the government has advised people of the state to remain vigilant and report any suspicious case to the nearest health facility, announcing however that there is no trace of the deadly Ebola disease in the state.
The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Aihanuwa Eregie, who stated this at a press briefing yesterday, said the state Ministry of Health in collaboration with WHO and other health partners had carried out disease surveillance activities in all parts of the state to ensure early detection of any outbreak and the timely containment and control of same.
Eregie said since a case of the deadly Ebola Virus has been confirmed in Nigeria, there was the need for everyone to be extra vigilant to prevent the virus in Edo State because of the highly contagious nature of the disease.
In Ondo State, three referral hospitals have been created to handle cases that might arise from the epidemic.
The state government had set up referral centres in the three senatorial districts of the state to examine any suspected person with the symptoms of the dreaded Ebola disease.
The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dayo Adeyanju, disclosed the creation of the centres at a one-day sensitisation meeting with public and private health practitioners in the state on the prevention of Ebola disease held in Akure, the state capital.
The centres are located at the Federal Medical Centre, Owo in the northern senatorial district; State Specialist Hospital, Akure for the central senatorial district and State Specialist Hospital, Okitipupa for the southern senatorial district.
According to Adeyanju, isolated wards would be created in each of the three referral centres, while protection garments would be given to health workers that would work at the centres.
The commissioner said specially-trained workers of about 10 in each of the centres, would provide basic services.
He said suspected persons would later be moved to the quarantine centre that would be built in the outskirts of the town.
He also advised health workers to embrace universal protection practice when treating their patients irrespective of the ailment.
The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) yesterday also called on the federal government, doctors and other health practitioners to take proactive measures towards nipping the deadly disease in the bud.
The call came as the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has said it is maintaining strict screening of visitors at airports, seaports and border areas to prevent the spread of Ebola Virus into the country.
The congress warned that it would be suicidal to take a nonchalant attitude to the disease especially at a time when the country is facing serious security challenges, which have already claimed thousands of lives.
TUC, in a statement jointly issued by its President and Secretary, Bobboi Kaigama and Musa Lawal respectively, said it was particularly disturbed that the disease broke out in the country at a time when the health sector was beset by the on-going doctors’ strike.
The congress further urged government, the unions in the health sector and well-meaning Nigerians to rise up to the challenge, adding that no one knows who the next victim might be.
It explained that given the ease with which the disease is contracted and the speed at which it claims its victims, “the Ebola disease appears to be more deadly than HIV/AIDS and is an enemy that should be frontally confronted and not taken for granted”.
“All hands must be on deck to wipe out the disease. The health and information ministries must do the needful to create sufficient awareness about the danger that the disease represents and the measures by which its spread can be halted. The hospitals and health centres must be well supplied with relevant facilities to quarantine and attend to Ebola patients. And there should be a network amongst them and other public and private stakeholder agencies to facilitate prompt information sharing and dissemination on the disease,” the congress stated.
According to TUC, this was not the time to play divisive and unfruitful politics or apportion blames to a particular political party at the expense of losing more lives to the deadly disease.
On his part, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said plans were underway for the training of state health officials on how to handle the disease.
Chukwu also noted that government was in possession of the airline that brought Sawyer in and people were still being screened for level of contact.
He said two persons who travelled with the victim on the same flight or who had primary contacts with Sawyer had been quarantined, while 69 others placed under surveillance, noting that observation was on among those that attended the ECOWAS meeting in Calabar for those who may have had secondary contact with him.
The persons, according to the minister, would be quarantined for three weeks, which is the known incubation period.
“We agreed to cremate him in line with internationally acceptable protocol on disposing a sufferer of Ebola disease. The body of a sufferer itself is dangerous. The Centre for Disease Control decontaminated the body before it was cremated.”
“We are now working with the governors. We want to begin to train the personnel of states to be able to handle matters of this nature,” Chukwu said.
Also, WHO has sent a team of technical experts to work with the Nigerian team on the prevention of further importation and spread of the disease.
To this end, telecommunications companies in the county have agreed to start sending out messages to phone users on their mobile phones about the disease, while the National Call Centre, which was originally scheduled for inauguration on a later date would now be fast tracked to aid communication on Ebola.