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Ebola: Porous borders put communities at risk

In Katsina State there are about seven local governments that have several border entries with the neighbouring Niger Republic with thousands of people passing through…

In Katsina State there are about seven local governments that have several border entries with the neighbouring Niger Republic with thousands of people passing through the points on daily basis. In theory, the borders have been placed on red alert following the outbreak of Ebola disease in some West African countries, including Nigeria.
  When Sunday Trust visited the Magama border in Jibia local government, it was business as usual, with motorists and commuters being subjected to scrutiny by relevant government agencies like the customs, immigration, amongst many. Visibly present, but on the sidelines were the Port Health Services, who were to check the yellow cards and give clean bill of health to travelers coming into the country.
  One of the health officials at the border, who pleaded for anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the press, said they had been placed on red alert following the rise in the Ebola scourge, but he, however, decried the non-availability of equipment to check people coming into the country to detect potential risk.
   According to him, all they do was to subject travelers to thorough physical assessment and ask for their journey history so as to identify potential persons, who might have come from endemic countries. “We ask passengers where they come from. For example, if you say you come from Maradi (in Niger  Republic), we ask you where you have been to before Maradi, so as to know if you are coming from the afflicted places,” the official said.
  The health official added that the non-provision of screening instruments is giving him fear of his own personal safety. “Can you believe that even me as a health worker I’m scared of the issue? I’m here at the border, which is the first point of contact with the outside world, having no any tool to safeguard myself or test persons to ascertain their status. All I do is talk and scrutinize with my eyes,” he said.
   “Even though Niger Republic has not recorded any case of Ebola, an unsuspecting person might have met someone who at one point or the other moved across the affected countries before reaching here. So you can see we are not safe and couple with non-availability of health equipment, only God can save us,” he added. A passenger who spoke to our correspondent noted that since they left Maradi to Magama and Jibia no any health official had approached them to ascertain their health status. “We just drove all through,” he added.
  When our correspondent sought the response of the state coordinator of port health service, Mr Samuel Olufemi Soroye, who is a member of the recently constituted state committee on Ebola, he declined to speak, saying that he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
   Meanwhile, the Katsina State government chairman on Ebola committee and Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health, Dr. Ahmad Qabbasiyu, has noted that since the dreaded disease has no cure, people will be subjected to ‘High Index of Suspicion’ and urged medical practitioners to make it their watchword as they examine patients.
  The 12-member committee on  Ebola virus, which was  inaugurated by the state government, is to map out strategies for sensitizing the populace on the menace of the epidemic. The measure, according to the state deputy governor Alhaji Garba Faskari, who inaugurated the committee, was informed by government desire to curtail the disease.
   The term of reference of the committee include to liaise with the Federal Ministry of Health for monitoring and  valuation of issues of the Ebola, to embark on sensitization campaigns on the dangers of Ebola, to educate on prevention measures as well as co-opt any individual to assist in addressing the issue.

Normal border operations by men of the Nigerian Customs, Immigration Services, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other security personnel were seen going on when our correspondent visited Nigeria’s frontier near Lolo in Bagudo Local Government Area of Kebbi State, There was, however, no presence of any medical personnel who should have conducted screening for the deadly Ebola virus and any other epidemic.
The Wakilin Hakimin Tungan Mailanga, Mallam Usman Mailanga, said there was no presence of the virus in the area. Other villagers who spoke on condition of anonymity said despite the outbreak of the virus in other West African countries, there was no  medical personnel stationed in the border to screen those entering or leaving country.
“The border operations are still the same as they were before the outbreak of the virus. Medical teams come occasionally to nearby Customs and Immigration border barracks for routine immunization against polio and other diseases prior to the Ebola outbreak,” a source said.
   A medical personnel working in nearby Lolo Basic Health Clinic said no screening equipment was provided and no directive was given to them to screen anybody at the border. “We usually carry out routine polio immunization for our citizens. However, we are yet to receive equipment or directives to conduct Ebola virus screening,” the medical personnel who does not want his name mentioned, said. The District Head of Lolo, Alhaji Muhammad Ilo, said they had embarked on sensitization programmes to enlighten the community about the disease. “Every Friday, we visit mosques to conduct enlightenment campaign for our people to be alert and report any symptoms of the outbreak of  Ebola to us or any health official nearest to them,” he said.
   Kebbi State Commissioner for Health, Alhaji Hussaini Abdullahi Raha, said a committee comprising all doctors, all district heads and village heads in the 21 local governments in the state, had been constituted. “Before, our medical personnel only conducted routine medical screenings at the border, but now they will start using instruments to screen people for the Ebola virus,” Raha said.
He said food vendors from the Benin Republic will be alerted, while many illegal routes will be policed. Unconfirmed reports said a 20-year-old dry season rice farmer from Ilwa in Benin Republic, a border community with Nigeria, had been killed by Ebola-related ailment.

 It was the usual hustling and bustling of traders, commuters and security officials at the border town of Idiroko when our correspondent visited on Friday. But residents live in fear because they said their community was vulnerable as many foreigners come into the country through routes spread across the area. “We are the most vulnerable. We don’t know how many Liberians have come through our numerous routes today, said a motorcyclist, who gave his name simply as Rasheed. “While the situation has changed at the official border route, illegal immigrants come through other porous routes and they can pass the virus into the country,” he added. According to Rasheed, there are over 100 entries from Idiroko, Ifoyin, Owode, Ajilete people can come into Nigeria. Our government only needs to ensure that people are screened.
   At the Nigerian border to the neighbouring Republic of Benin, officials of the Immigration, Customs and the Port Health Services were all in gloves. A stretch of queue could be seen as each unit scanned those coming into the country. The checking has changed from what it used to be. When I was going to Cotonou late last night for today’s market, I spent about two hours to pass through the various checks,” a female trader, Mama Wasi’u, said. “Before, I cannot spend 30 minutes. But this Ebola fever has put them on alert. This I can confirm. But there are other routes apart from here where government needs to monitor,” she said, corroborating Rasheed.
Those detected to be having high temperature, according to the woman, were referred to the General Hospital at Idiroko. At the hospital, the story was different, as an unofficial source said they were yet to receive any patient from the border Port Health Services section.
All efforts to speak with the Director, Port Health Services as well as Immigration and Customs officials at Idiroko did not succeed. However, the Ogun State government disclosed that a consignment of protective gears for health workers handling suspected Ebola carriers had been ordered.
   The state Commissioner for Health, Prof. Olaokun Soyinka, at a special news conference on the state of the virus in Abeokuta, said government had set up a number of committees, particularly for the border areas in the state to embark on massive sensitization and awareness on curtailing the movement of foreigners into the state. Soyinka, who provided two hotlines for residents to use in case they suspect any person manifesting symptoms of the virus, assured that the state government was doing everything to check the spread of the virus into the state. “As at today, let me place it on record that the state is yet to record any incidence of the virus,” he said. He also confirmed that about 70 porous entry points have been officially identified, adding “we are going to ensure that personnel are deployed to those areas to check movement of immigrants.”
   The commissioner appealed to pharmaceutical stores, traditional healers and government agencies, particularly in the border areas to be vigilant for illness in travellers or contact of victims. He also urged the media not to hype the virus spread, until such claim is adequately verified. In same vein, the state government has urged those hunting for wild life and game animals to suspend their activities forthwith in the state as part of measures to curtail the outbreak of the Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever Virus in Nigeria.
  Commissioner for Agriculture, Mrs Ronke Sokefun, in a statement said hunting of wild life and game animals do facilitate the outbreak of the disease.

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