WHEN the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) surged through West Africa, experts predicted a doomsday; as hopes seemed to be dim, while fear beclouded the minds of many people.
The apprehension is largely because of the cynicism regarding the ability of West African countries to contain the dreaded disease but the eventual declaration that Nigeria and Senegal were free of the disease proved the die-hard sceptics wrong.
The Ebola virus has been identified by experts as a lethal virus which affects human cells and migrates throughout the human body to afflict all organs, causing the victim to bleed profusely.
Compared to other diseases, EVD has been described as an affliction with higher fatality rate and no proven cure.
The reported average fatality rate of EVD has been put at 50 per cent, with the disease being transmitted via contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, including objects that came in contact with the contaminated bodily fluids.
The Ebola virus first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The latter occurred at a village near the Ebola River, and the disease derived its name from that setting.
Although the initial outbreaks — which killed more than 400 people — were contained, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported a fresh, major Ebola outbreak in Guinea in March 2014.
The disease which rapidly spread to the neighbouring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone was traced to a two-year-old child who died in December 2013.
A situation report on the recent outbreak by WHO in November 2013 said that a total of 15, 935 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of EVD had been reported in eight affected countries.
The countries include Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain and the U.S.
So far, not less than 5, 689 deaths have been reported.
However, Ebola outbreaks in Senegal and Nigeria were declared officially over on Oct. 17 and Oct. 19 respectively, after no new cases were reported.
The WHO says that the end of an Ebola outbreak in a country can be declared after 42 days, while no new cases have been detected.
The 42 days represent the doubling of the maximum incubation period for Ebola (21 days), which starts from the last day that any person in the country had contact with a confirmed or probable Ebola case.
The Ebola virus surfaced in Nigeria on July 20 when an infected Liberian, Patrick Sawyer, flew into Lagos.
Sawyer, who died in a hospital five days later, set off a chain of disease transmission that led to the infection of 19 persons and seven deaths.
In the Senegalese experience, the virus came into the country on Aug. 29 through a young man who travelled to Dakar by road from Guinea, after having direct contact with an Ebola patient.
The government responded by identifying and monitoring 74 persons, who had close contact with the patient. It tested all suspected cases, stepping up surveillance at the country’s entry points and nationwide public awareness campaigns.
However, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have so far been the most affected countries, recording several Ebola-induced deaths.
Although observers commend the efforts of the governments of Nigeria and Senegal to contain EVD, experts, nonetheless, note that the Ebola outbreak exposed the perceptible lapses in national health and economic systems across the sub-region.
For instance, the focus of a recent debate on “Ebola as a Threat to Human Security and Statehood”, organised by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, was on issues relating to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Dr Rui Guma Vaz, the Country Representative of the WHO in Nigeria, said that successes which Nigeria and Senegal recorded in efforts to contain the EVD were basically due to a coordinated approach that was adopted in the anti-EVD campaign.
He said that the approach involved the monitoring of 892 contacts on a daily basis and having their temperatures checked, while those with temperatures of more than 38 degrees Celsius were quarantined in isolation centres.
“This was one of the best methods we are sharing with the rest of West Africa; contact-tracing is critical to efforts contain the spread of Ebola,’’ Vaz said.
Underscoring the importance of public education in the disease prevention and management procedures, Dr Daniel Eklu, the Director of Humanitarian and Social Affairs, ECOWAS Commission, noted that experts from member states once developed a communications strategy.
He said that the strategy was designed to sensitise the people and elicit appropriate actions from people across the region, adding that appropriate channels for the communication of messages were adopted.
Eklu said that the strategy adopted by member states was aimed at dispelling fears, superstition and preventing the stigmatisation of Ebola victims, so as to ensure effective prevention, containment, management and control of the disease.
“There is a link between conflict and Ebola and if the situation is not properly managed, it could lead to other conflicts,” he said.
However, analysts believe that the lapses identified across affected states cannot be isolated from some recurrent factors such as the limited access of the people, particularly those in the rural areas, to basic necessities of life.
Mr Amaechi Alozie, Programme Officer, ECOWAS Emergency Response Team, stressed need to consider all the factors so as to have holistic results.“The issue of poverty, education, development are all linked to the Ebola crisis; public awareness is also important and this takes us to the culture and beliefs of the people and how people relate the crisis with these factors,” he said.
Besides, Alozie said that apart from having adequate health facilities, it was also very imperative to train health workers and volunteers, while ensuring their protection.
He also underscored the need for member states to make available adequate resources, despite current challenges, to prevent further conflicts.
In his views, Mr Michael Harvey, the Mission Director of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for Nigeria, said that the Ebola situation in Nigeria was effectively controlled because the response was built on the infrastructure used for polio eradication efforts.
“We were also lucky that the outbreak was in Lagos where we have about 40 per cent of all the doctors in Nigeria and a very competent state governor.
“In fighting the outbreak of the Ebola virus, we are taking into consideration the need to work with governments in the region, in terms of strengthening emergency response systems.
“Other experts have pointed out the need for states to ensure enhanced surveillance at border posts while respecting citizens’ rights to free movement,’’ Harvey said.
However, a Consolidated Ebola Virus Disease Preparedness Checklist has been developed to help countries to assess and test their level of preparedness, while ensuring that they are ready to cope if there are any reported cases.
Meanwhile, WHO says that 260 million U.S. dollars is required to meet the objectives of its response to the Ebola outbreak.
The global health agency says that it has been able to get 49 per cent of the funds by Oct. 24, while there are pledges to provide 15 per cent of the required funds; leaving a shortfall of 36 per cent.
As WHO continues to appeal to member states to provide funds and other resources for the anti-EVD campaign, it has recommended the adoption a safe and dignified burial protocol for the fatalities of the disease in order to reduce the transmission of the Ebola virus.
WHO, however, allows the inclusion of family members in the entire burial processes, while encouraging religious rites under safe guidelines.
Analysts are of the view that if all the measures put in the place to tackle EVD are faithfully implemented, the whole world will soon be free from the frightening consequences of the Ebola virus.

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