Stopping 'Christmas' Ebola Virus Disease
With only about two weeks before Nigeria enters the real Yuletide season when millions of Nigerians from all walks of life from all across the globe will troop into the hinterlands across Nigeria to be with their loved ones, there is clearly no discernible anti-Ebola strategy to check a possible resurgence of this deadly disease from re-afflicting Nigeria.
Most Nigerians have understandably raised alarm that there are no visible fool proof evidences of any watertight preparations by the Nigerian ministries of health and interior to wade off the possible re-emergence of Ebola Virus Disease- an ailment which was first brought in by a foreigner from Liberia who actually escaped detection by the officials of the Nigerian Immigration Services at the International Airport in Lagos. But for the swift response of the doctors and gallant Nurses at the First Consultants Hospital, a private medical facility in Lagos whereby the index case from Liberia was rushed to after he collapsed on been cleared by the less vigilant and usually bribe seeking Immigration officers, we would have been in a very messy health emergency by now.
President Jonathan and the ministries of health at both the Federal and state levels in Lagos, Rivers, Anambra and Enugu played strategic roles which culminated in the defeat of this seemingly deadly and yet incurable disease. Sadly, basking on the euphoria of defeating the disease, the then minister of health Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu capitalised on his sudden opportunistic popularity to dabble into the political arena in his home state of Ebonyi where he was made the consensus candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. Whilst he is busy swimming the foggy waters of divisive partisan politics in his home state, there is clear evidence that ensuring that Nigeria remains Ebola Virus Disease free is not the top priority of the new man manning that ministry in Abuja.
The junior health minister who is the supervising Health minister is not known to be in the highest motivational level to keep the tempo of national momentum against any possible resurgence of EVD in Nigeria. Apart from the fact that the junior minister is not a well known health technocrat even though he is a medical doctor, he is also a rookie in administration haven just been appointed as junior minister from Sokoto state few weeks before the dare devil arrival of Ebola Virus Disease.
Like the way our public office holders always behave whenever anything is said to have been brought under control it will be business- as- usual and there will be no back up national strategy to stop a return to the days of fear and national apprehension which the introduction of Ebola Virus Disease represented in Nigeria until it was checkmated.
The federal Government must think about the repercussions should this disease be allowed to sneak right back into Nigeria especially at this time that almost all major political actors are paying more attention to campaign to retain their juicy positions in next year's election than paying critical attention to fight EVD the manner we all did at its first coming. Nigeria's political firmament is so messy and fragmented along divisive partisan lines even as most national political actors are busy engaged in what seemed like internecine political fight for supremacy.
Nigerians must remain vigilant so these quarrelsome politicians are not allowed to disappoint us by allowing this disease to stage a comeback. it would be the greatest tragedy at this time that Nigerians ought to be rejoicing for the very reason of the season. Most commentators and even the medical guild of Nigeria have also reminded us all of the need to be vigilant because vigilance is the price of liberty tat we all must pay to remain EVD free in Nigeria.
To underscore the renewed apprehension of Nigerians that this disease may resurface, an online medium cable online has alerted Nigerian authorities to be vigilant because this season is a time when such an opportunistic disease may sneak into Nigeria from the multiple routes through which travellers will come into the country especially from the West coast. Many smuggling rings will also seek to bring in commodities such as rice and vehicles which are usually in high demand at this time and these persons follow illegal routes and sometimes usually compromise the customs and immigration. There is therefore the national urgency for these unmanned routes to be identified and fortified for the sake of all of us because EVD respects no class or status.
The online medium reported thus; ''A month after Nigeria was certified Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the possibility of re-infection through the land border with Republic of Benin remains high, an investigation by TheCable has revealed'.
Passengers passing through international airports are thoroughly screened, with everyone required to fill a contact-tracing form ─ in addition to undergoing a body temperature check, the electronic newspaper reported.
But it also reminded Nigerians that the Nigeria-Republic of Benin land border ─ freely used on a daily basis by millions of West African travellers, potentially including those who have visited Ebola-hit countries such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone ─ is grossly under-policed.
Although checks are carried out at certain entry points, there are over 20 illegal routes identified by TheCable where travellers do not undergo any form of screening at all.
Some of those routes are used for smuggling and at least six Nigerian states, which share border with Benin, are at risk. Travellers can enter Nigeria through Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Kwara, Niger and Kebbi states.
Abdul Asiyanbi, a resident of Oyo state who recently travelled to parts of Benin through Kwara and Oyo states, told TheCable that there were no posts for Ebola screening.
“I departed Nigeria through Kenu village in Baruten local government area of Kwara state on Thursday. There was no screening whatsoever. I only paid trans-border charges when I wanted to enter Kabou in Benin Republic,” he said.
“We just saw publicity materials of Ebola posted around border communities but there was no one to screen. On Sundaywhen I was returning, I passed through the towns of Nattingou, Parakou, Chikanda, all in Benin, to link Saki in Oyo state, still no screening.”
While there were no provisions at all for screening in Kwara and Oyo states, even the one done in the border communities in Lagos had glaring lapses.
Based on the proximity of Cotonou, capital of Benin, to Lagos, the commercial hub of West Africa, there is usually an influx of people crossing into both countries. They cross from Lagos into Seme and Owode Apa, the communities sharing land border with Benin.
Commercial activities in these towns were very high on Tuesday, November 18, when TheCable visited. Checkpoints were mounted by personnel of Nigerian customs service, Nigerian immigration service, Nigerian police force and other officers in plain clothes.
The Port Health Services, which is in charge of screening incoming travellers, had officials in strategic places, while Beninoise officials were also screening Nigerians travelling into their country.
However, the many illegal routes constituted a major challenge with Seme and Owode Apa borders.
TheCable observed not less than seven such routes in each of those border communities. Motorcycles had their route, while vehicles and tricycles had theirs as well.
Commenting on the porosity of the border, a senior official of one of the agencies who asked not to be named, expressed his displeasure.
“The present state of the border is nothing to write home about. It will cost Nigeria just a little amount of money to secure the border. The government should erect a fence and get people to man it,” the official said.
He explained that securing the border would reduce smuggling and also help improve health security, and revealed that there were about 4,417 illegal routes into Nigeria through which Ebola could gain access into the country.
However, a top official of Port Health Services, who also did not want to be named, said all the routes within Seme and Owode Apa, both legal and illegal, were being manned.
“We have gone round to locate all the illegal routes both here and at Owode Apa and our officers are manning everywhere,” he said.
“We also have our people at Sawa, around Owode Apa… that is a place where travellers converge after arriving the country. Our people are also at Gbaji and the reason is to screen those who escaped at the border.
TheCable did not locate of such screening posts at illegal routes.
The best way out is for the federal and state ministries of health and Internal affairs to form a synergy among themselves and set up strong monitoring and screening points at all international and inter-state borders so travellers are thoroughly screened and certified Ebola free before been allowed into their respective zones of influence. There should be no compromise about this very important problem that for now has no known cure. A stitch in time saves nine.
* Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and [email protected],www.huriwa.org, www.rightsassociationngr.com.