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Ebola: FG, US Plan Partnership Against Outbreak as Virus Claims First Nigerian

Ebola: FG, US Plan Partnership Against Outbreak as Virus Claims First Nigerian

By Adeola Akinremi, Gboyega Akinsanmi, Chiemelie Ezeobi, Zacheaus Somorin in Lagos, Jaiyeola Andrews and Paul Obi in Abuja with agency reports

As the first Nigerian citizen, a female nurse, succumbed to the scourge of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Lagos yesterday, President Goodluck Jonathan and Vice-President Joe Biden of the United States agreed that both countries would work together urgently to curtail the outbreak of the deadly virus.

As part of its proactive approach to combat the virus, the federal government has also contacted the US Centre for Disease Control (US CDC) and made a request for the experimental drug, ZMapp, that was administered to two American aid workers – Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol – who have shown remarkable improvement after falling gravely ill as a result of Ebola.

This is just as six new cases – all primary contacts who were involved in the treatment of the Liberian diplomat, Mr. Patrick Sawyer, who brought the disease into Nigeria – were confirmed to have contracted the disease, bringing the total number of confirmed Ebola case in Lagos to seven.

A female doctor, who also handled the Sawyer case at First Consultants Medical Centre, a private hospital in Lagos, was the first confirmation by the health authorities on Monday as having contracted the disease.

The Lagos State Government also confirmed yesterday that the contact-tracing team had been able to identify 27 secondary contacts, adding that the close contacts of the seven persons who have been quarantined at an undisclosed ward would still continue.

The death of the Nigerian nurse coincided with another death in Jeddah, the Saudi Arabia capital, by a victim who travelled to the Middle-Eastern country from Sierra Leone.

As the virus spread beyond West Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced yesterday that the death toll arising from Ebola had climbed to 932 from the 887 recorded on Monday, compelling the UN health agency to convene a two-day emergency meeting to determine whether to declare the epidemic an international crisis.

Speaking on the death of the nurse, the federal and Lagos State Governments in separate briefings in Abuja and Lagos yesterday said she was one of the medics who had primary contact with Sawyer.

At the Abuja conference, the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, explained that the first known Nigerian to die from Ebola had been recorded, adding however that the first death in the country was the index case – the imported case from Liberia.

According to him, Nigeria has now recorded seven confirmed cases of Ebola, while five other cases were being treated at an isolation ward in Lagos.
All the Nigerians diagnosed with the virus were primary contacts of the index case, he added.
To check the spread of Ebola, Chukwu said the 24/7 Emergency Operations Centre would be fully functional by today, disclosing that the emergency centre would be headed by Dr. Faisal Shuaibu as the Incident Manager.

He explained that the incident manager would lead a six-man inter-agency team drawn from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), the US CDC, WHO, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Lagos to complete the setting up of the centre.

He added that the committee would be joined by other personnel from state and federal hospitals in Lagos as well as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The minister also announced the appointment of a Director of Communication and Community Mobilisation from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Prof. O. Onajole, who he said, would be based in Lagos.

He added: “We are embarking on recruiting additional health personnel to strengthen the team that is currently managing the situation in Lagos.”
As part of the strategy to provide care, the minister observed that plans were in place for the procurement of the relevant equipment for the management of the patients.
“We are making arrangements to procure isolation tents to quicken the pace of providing isolation wards in all the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Terrority (FCT).
“We are also setting up a special team to provide counselling and psychological support to patients, identified contacts and their families,” he said.

While assuring the public of government’s efforts to arrest the spread of the disease and provide adequate treatment for the patients, Chukwu said alongside the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, they would be visiting Lagos State to “assess the situation on the ground”.

FG Requests US for ZMapp Drug

Chukwu further revealed that the federal government was seeking collaboration with the US CDC in Atlanta to gain access to the experimental drug ZMapp that was administered to two American health workers infected with the virus in Liberia.

“The Nigeria government is doing everything possible to contain the disease. Government is in touch with the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) Atlanta, to see if they can extend the experimental drug being administered to the two Americans infected in Liberia,” he said.

Onyebuchi, who spoke at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, termed the Ebola epidemic a national emergency, adding: “Indeed the world is at risk. Nobody is immune. The experience in Nigeria has alerted the world that it takes just one individual to travel by air to a place to begin an outbreak.”
He said for fear of stigmatisation, the identities of those infected would not be made public yet.

He urged all state governments to open up more isolation sites to contain people who might need to be treated or isolated.

27 Secondary Contacts Identified

At the Lagos briefing, the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, said the contact-tracing team had been able to identify 27 secondary contacts, noting that close contacts of all admitted would still continue.

The commissioner said: “Based on contact-tracing arising from the index case that came into the country from Liberia, a total of 70 persons were monitored. Of these, eight have been admitted and their blood samples taken.
“Results of five out of the eight blood samples taken have been received with all five testing positive. Results of three samples are outstanding. Regrettably, one of the eight admitted died at 2.06 pm, thus bringing the deaths recorded on account of the virus outbreak in Nigeria to two.”

Of the seven persons who had tested positive to the virus, the health commissioner said two of them “are critically ill”, necessitating the need for more intensive health care to save their lives.

He expressed the state government’s commitment “to take care of the volunteers, especially in areas of safety to personal health, life insurance cover and whatever assurance that may be required”.

He allayed the fears of health workers who have the requisite expertise needed to manage the confirmed and probable cases, saying if the state government “cannot provide the requisite quality and quantity of health workers needed for the management of these cases, outsiders would find it difficult to help”.

The commissioner also advised religious groups, Christian and Muslim bodies, to curtail activities that could bring a large number of people together under the same roof.
According to him, “Large gatherings should be avoided at this period until further notice. Religious groups in different parts of the state should put plans to hold any crusades, congresses or conventions on hold.”

Health Workers Screen Passengers

To complement the efforts of the Lagos State Government, officials of the Federal Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Port Health Services, have started the screening of inbound passengers at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, and other airports in the country that operate international services.
Passengers arriving from different parts of the world were screened with infrared thermometers which are operated without physical contact.
If it shows negative, the passenger is allowed to go through immigration and into the country.

The screening exercise involved all passengers – foreign and local – who passed through the airport, while health officers adorned protective kits to ensure that there was no contact between them and the passengers being screened.

We spoke with the General Manager, Public Affairs, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Yakubu Dati, who said the exercise was being carried out at all the international airports, including the ones in Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu.

Dati also explained that FAAN was collaborating with all the relevant agencies to ensure that Nigerians are protected from the disease, which had killed a Nigerian and a Liberian-American in the country.

“Screening of passengers has been set up and the screening is being done by the Federal Ministry of Health under the Port Health Services. At the airport, we have three stages of screening for inbound airlines. We have given instructions that airlines should carry out their own screening and make sure that anybody that has the virus is not allowed to travel.

“The second stage is passengers are given forms in the aircraft to fill their health status; then thirdly is on arrival. We also have port health officials who are there to carry out preliminary checks which they do with infrared facilities that do not involve contact and is done even before immigration counter,” Dati said.
He also said FAAN had provided facilities where anyone that needed further examination could be taken to and also an area where a suspected carrier of the disease could be quarantined.

“For any case that requires further checks, we have a holding area where the passenger or passengers will be taken to and if it is a case that needs closer examination, we have given them a space for isolation where the passenger will be quarantined. So ours is to provide the facility and the area for Ministry of Health to carry out their functions and we are doing that all across,” Dati said.
On whether anybody screened so far had tested positive, he said: “We have not seen anybody with the disease at the airport from what we can see, even though the health people are the professionals.

“But from all we can see, everybody that passed through and had his or her temperature taken was allowed to pass which means nobody was caught with the virus.
“It also means the airlines are carrying out their own screening even before the passengers come on board and we are very happy about that.”
Dati said all the concerned agencies were cooperating, adding that last week the Port Health Services carried out an enlightenment campaign on the Ebola virus.

Nigeria, US Agree to Partner

However as the virus spreads beyond the West African shores, the Nigerian president and US vice-president agreed on Tuesday that the two countries would work together to urgently curtail the outbreak of Ebola virus, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported yesterday.

Jonathan and Biden met in Washington D.C. on the sidelines of the US-Africa African Leaders Summit, according to a “readout” issued by the White House.
The White House statement said Biden reiterated the US’ partnership in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria.
He was reported to have stressed the need to pursue holistic approaches that respect and protect human rights
“The Vice-President also underscored the importance of supporting Nigeria’s effort to improve the socio-economic and security conditions in northern Nigeria,’’ the statement by the White House said.

NMA Suspends Strike

In furtherance of the objective to combat the virus, the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has continued its sensitisation on the preventative measures the public should take to avoid contamination.
The chairman of the NMA in Lagos, Dr. Tope Ojo, at a press conference yesterday also revealed that the association had set up seven different committees to combat the spread of the virus.

Dismissing the doctors’ strike, he said: “Strike or no strike, we must respond to emergencies. Our doctors are at Mainland Hospital, Yaba, where isolated contacts are being monitored. There are seven committees working on the management of the disease at the centre in Lagos and our members are part of the various committees.

“When there is a disaster outbreak, you find out that there will be response by NMA. The issue of strike will not affect our involvement. The NMA is a responsible body and I can assure you that inasmuch as we don’t pray for natural disasters, NMA will definitely respond.

“We worked all through the night trying to find out who should be here or there today. It is not a question of if the hospital is open today we worked more than what we had been doing.
“But the committee where we are having challenges is getting volunteers in case management. That is the people that work directly with confirmed and suspected cases. Look at the protective measures, which doctors in Liberia and Guinea take.
“They are well protected, yet some of them still caught it. So our doctors are worried about the danger it poses to their lives and they need to be reassured. We understand their fears and we are making moves to confirm the level of preparedness of the government for doctors.”

But there were indications that NMA may have suspended its strike nationwide so that its members could assist the government to adequately address the scourge of the Ebola virus.
The suspension, We gathered, followed an emergency meeting convened by the association in Abuja last night.
The meeting was held to call off the strike so as to allow medical doctors return to their duty posts and curb the spread of Ebola.
An inside source told We: “The strike has been suspended, though under controversial circumstances. Work is expected to resume at once.”

WHO Holds Emergency Ebola Meeting

In the same vein, WHO yesterday began a two-day emergency meeting on West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, with the UN agency deciding whether to declare it an international crisis.

Accroding to AFP, the closed-door session is tasked with ruling whether the outbreak constitutes what is known in WHO-speak as a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Taking the form of a telephone conference between senior WHO officials, representatives of affected countries, and experts from around the globe, the meeting is not expected to make its decision public tomorrow.
To date, WHO has not issued global-level recommendations — such as travel and trade restrictions — related to the outbreak, which broke out in Guinea before spreading to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
But the scale of concern is underlined by the WHO emergency session itself — such consultations are relatively rare.

Death Toll Rises to 932

WHO also released the latest death toll as a result of the Ebola virus, stating that it had risen to 932 from 887 deaths recorded by Monday.

WHO said the total number of Ebola cases in the world had surpassed 1,700.
In a statement yesterday, the UN health agency said that its latest updated figures took into account 108 new cases and 45 deaths reported by Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone between last Saturday and Monday.

The total number of laboratory-confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola has now reached 1,711 since the outbreak in West Africa began in January, according to the WHO’s figures.

The agency said that of the 45 new deaths, 27 were in Liberia, 13 in Sierra Leone and five in Guinea, where the outbreak began.
Sierra Leone’s case-count has overtaken Guinea’s in recent months. It reported 45 new cases, taking its total to 691, with 286 deaths.
Liberia reported 48 new cases, lifting its total to 282. Of those, 282 have been fatal. Although Guinea recorded just 10 new cases, it still has the highest death toll.
In total, Guinea has seen 363 fatalities and 495 cases since the outbreak began.
The WHO listed five new cases in Nigeria, taking the country’s count to nine, with one death.

Onyebuchi to Meet Foreign Missions

Meanwhile, the health minister is billed to meet with Heads of Foreign Missions today in Abuja.

The meeting is coming on the heels of the blame game trailing the entry into the country of Sawyer who has been blamed for the spread of the virus in the country.

Officials of the Nigerian foreign mission in Monrovia, Liberia have been blamed for allowing Sawyer entry even when the late Liberian’s sister had died from the virus.

A statement from the Federal Ministry of Health and signed by the Deputy Director, Press and Information, Ishiaka Yusuf, said the meeting is expected to take place around noon today.

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