Ebola. Ebola. Ebola!
The word itself existed mainly in the lexicon of public health experts up until now. So now, the fear of Ebola is the beginning of social etiquette, if you get what I mean. Across the West Africa sub-region, the fear of the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) is now the beginning of wisdom.
The management of the EVD scourge has spawned new social and human relations norms (no hugs, no handshakes, just wave or clench your fist); acts of folly and superstition (drinking or bathing with salty water, eating bitter kola) and new business opportunities (a boom for disinfectants, soaps and hand sanitizers).
On August 8, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the West Africa Ebola outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” triggering global alarm, as countries stepped up precautions and testing. The recent and largest ever Ebola outbreak began in Guinea in March 2014. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been the epicenter of the epidemic.
Considering our national headcount, the EVD scourge seems to have had a relatively minor impact on our nation. We’ve had less than 100 EVD cases reported nationwide and less than 10 Nigerians have died as a result of the tragic disease.
So thankfully, EVD did not get to epidemic levels in Africa’s most populated nation. It now seems appropriate to heave a sigh of relief as we applaud the diligence and pharmaco-vigilance of our government and health care practitioners who ensured that the disease was contained and insulated away from the rest of society.
But what if the reverse was the case?
What if the EVD index case patient had made his way through the Lagos airport and then continued his onward journey to Calabar?What if folks who had had primary and secondary contact with this index case had not acted responsibly?
I must emphasize this last point – Responsibility. And indeed, “Responsibility” was the key reason why Nigeria had a low EVD casualty rate, notwithstanding the high rate of human traffic between Nigeria and the rest of West Africa. Ebola infected Nigerians exhibited a high sense of personal responsibility by promptly submitting themselves for medical care. As for the rest of society, we also did our part to upgrade hygiene standards at residences and office environments.
Beyond the business of medicine, the epidemic has dampened formal sector activities and thrown the informal economy that fuels West Africa’s cross-border commerce into a coma. Millions of West Africans are itinerant traders and semi-skilled persons who crisscross the region’s porous land borders in search of their daily bread. And because of Ebola which has been successfully confined to West Africa, the rest of Africa is also suffering as business and leisure visitors to the rest of the continent cancel or postpone their trips.
Nigeria which accounts for about 167 million of West Africa’s 260 million people has not shut its land borders, but practically every other country in the sub-region closed theirs to human and vehicular traffic, all in a bid to restrict spread of EVD.
As governments and non-profits pump money and medical supplies into EVD treatment and containment strategies across West Africa, the epidemic has ignited debate on the quality of healthcare delivery in affected nations and our social and clinical vigilance for medical emergencies.
Me thinks an opportunity for us to review our healthcare management systems stares us in the face. Will we take it? Will we put a stop to industrial spats in our healthcare sector?
Will we restore dignity and hope for that the common man or woman – that Nigerian, young or old, who cannot afford to go to the private hospitals and clinics who only understand the smell of lucre and Point-of-Sale machines?
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