Given the resounding success with which Nigeria contained what would have resulted in an endemic spread of the Ebola Virus in 2015, there is quite an air of confidence that the national health emergency apparatus can deliver again in case the Coronavirus is imported. However, there are concerns as to whether the apparatus can deliver no-casualty containment.
“Should there be an outbreak, the important thing is to locate it and contain it there and I think we have the expertise to be able to do that,” said a source at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research when asked if Nigeria could aim higher to achieve containment without deaths.
“Depending on the time taken to track, people can die actually. If the case is found now, the first thing is to look around the immediate vicinity of any other person that could have been in contact. It’s important to be prepared,” the source said.
In the wake of the outbreak of the Coronavirus that is fast sweeping through continents from China, health management agencies including experts in public health have reminded Nigerians of the aggressive control of Ebola, citing it as an example of the country’s readiness to combat the case at hand.
This is coming at a time the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) is calling on all countries to collaborate with each other to take precautionary measures following the detection of a suspected case of Coronavirus in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, saying cases may appear in any country due to international travel.
WAHO also tasked countries on active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, and contact tracing to prevent further spread of this outbreak.
The organisation noted that as at 27 January 2020, about 3,000 cases have already been confirmed across the world, with 2,744 cases and 80 deaths so far in China alone. But, the World Health Organisation (WHO) assesses the risk of the outbreak to be very high in China, and moderate globally including in West Africa.
WAHO announced that it is coordinating with member states to share real-time information on the outbreak, enhance communication between countries and strengthen countries’ surveillance capacity, including early detection of suspected cases through thermal camera surveillance at international borders.
“One such suspected case arriving Abidjan airport recently was immediately detected and isolated and tests are now being performed to confirm whether this is a case of Coronavirus or not. WAHO has also implemented a regional laboratory network for access to rapid biological diagnostic facilities by member states, and has a standby Regional Rapid Response Team to support countries if required,” it said in a statement.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has asked people to stay calm as it is coordinating multiple sectors for assessing and managing the risk of importation. The Port Health Services unit of the Federal Ministry of Health has amplified screening measures at the points of entry including airports and ground transport stations. The centre is equally in close communication with the World Health Organisation (WHO) monitoring team.
Similar to Ebola response, provisions have been made for temperature checks, information notifications, masks to passengers with fever and guiding of symptomatic passengers to health facilities for further tests, the NCDC said.
During the emergency response for Ebola, a top-notch virology laboratory affiliated with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital quickly rose to the occasion to promptly diagnose case of Ebola virus disease. Isolation facilities were built in Lagos and Port-Harcourt as designated Ebola treatment facilities. Existing infrastructures for polio eradication were repurposed to support the Ebola response, putting GPS systems to work for real-time contact tracing and daily mapping of transmission chains. It was also a good time for hand sanitiser companies as many public spaces, from offices to churches, and hospitals were awash with varying products.
However, by the time WHO declared Nigeria free of Ebola virus transmission on 20 October, 2014, the number of cases was at 19 and seven of them had resulted in death. After an infected Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian, landed in Lagos, the protocol officer who escorted him died of Ebola. Four of nine infected doctors and nurses died as a result of poor precaution. Again, upon landing in Port-Harcourt, a doctor who treated Sawyer developed symptoms and died.
Hopes are indeed high about the government’s readiness claims to attack the Coronavirus but the same optimism is not wholly shared about the depth of strength, especially for preventing the first responders at the airport and in the hospital from infection.
Debo Odulana, a medical doctor and founder of Doctoora, a platform linking health experts to practising equipment, perceives the fear is less about being able to contain it and more about resources allocated to monitoring.
“What I think they can do which they have started doing is to do a lot of serious monitoring at the points of entry. The monitoring should heavily focus on tracking where each traveller is coming from. The other thing they can do is to just completely say no, we are not taking flights from certain places which I’m sure they wouldn’t do,” he said.
The Coronavirus which has killed 81 people in China has the potential to spread before symptoms show up, Chinese health authorities said in a monitored report.
Coronaviruses are transmitted from animals and people and from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient, for example, in a household or health care setting, the NCDC says.
As precautionary measures, WAHO strongly advised members of the public to frequently wash their hands with soap and water or clean them using alcohol-based sanitisers.
“When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with tissue or hand, and throw away the tissue immediately and wash your hands thoroughly. Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough,” WAHO said.
“If you have fever, cough or difficulty breathing, seek medical care immediately and inform your health care provider of all your recent travel history. In any areas with high suspicion of Coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting markets,” it said.
WAHO also asked individuals to at all times avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.
“Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods,” it said.
TEMITAYO AYETOTO & GODSGIFT ONYEDINEFU, Abuja