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Ebola outbreak in DR Congo

Over two years since the last case of Ebola was treated in the democratic Republic of Congo [DRC], the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently reported…

Over two years since the last case of Ebola was treated in the democratic Republic of Congo [DRC], the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently reported a new outbreak of the dreaded killer disease in that country. WHO’s report was based on information it received from the Likali Health Zone in Bas Uele Province of northern DRC. Laboratory tests there confirmed the incidence of the virus in some patients out of which three deaths had occurred. As at the last count about two dozen persons have died in that country with several others being treated and hundreds under clinical monitoring. DRC, which has had a harrowing experience with the disease, had its last case in 2014. 

Ebola’s re-emergence in DRC has unleashed panic among local residents, followed by a mass exodus as people in suspected areas of incidence are rushing to escape to safe havens. Ebola has a very high mortality rate.  Added to the plight of the country, the same northern region is presently hosting over three thousand refugees fleeing from sectarian violence in Bangassau, a border town between DRC and the Central African Republic, CAR. The refugees are believed to constitute a risk factor since there could be carriers among them who would spread the disease in their search for safe havens. 

The implications for Nigeria and the rest of Africa are to say the least, grave. Even if DRC does not share a common border with Nigeria, the volume of human traffic between the two countries is high and with the new state of panic over the new Ebola outbreak, Nigeria as a preferred safe haven among distressed Africans may have to contend with the influx of these escapees on its soil. It is easy to recall that the last time the disease was reported in Nigeria it came through one Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian carrier who visited this country. By the time the disease was tamed by the country in December 2014, it had claimed many victims. 

The present outbreak of Ebola disease in DRC therefore poses danger similar to that of 2014 and we should respond in a similar fashion. At that time Nigeria defeated the disease by effectively monitoring and checking its spread as well as saving scores of victims, to the admiration of global medical authorities. The same situation of effective control of the disease can and should be replicated at this time.  That is why the present state of red alert launched by the Federal government is both timely and welcome. 

According to a statement by the Federal Ministry of Health, all health care providers and the general public are advised to be vigilant and intensify awareness on the symptoms of haemorrhagic fevers. Accordingly, the statement directed health officials at the ports to step up inspection activities and to report any sick person or suspects. Such sick persons are to be referred to the chief epidemiologist in the respective state where there are present and relevant tests conducted.

The statement also asked that health care providers and the general public must immediately report any sign of illness to public health officials, and advised Nigerians not to panic as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control is on ground and equipped to secure the health of citizens. Other measures recommended by the Ministry include a step up in the level of personal hygiene of members of the public and intensified mass enlightenment on radio, television and social media by relevant government agencies. 

Nigeria’s spirited efforts in 2014 which stopped Ebola in the country were the dividends of collaborative measures between all stake holders. It is hoped that the same collaboration by all stake holders shall be mustered to save the country from the invasion of Ebola this time around.

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