|Friday, August 8, 2014Written by Ibe Uwaleke (Lagos), Emeka Anuforo and John Okeke (Abuja)|
Category: Lead Story
PATRICK Sawyer, the late Liberian-American, who brought Ebola into Nigeria, was under surveillance in Liberia as a suspected patient of the disease. His sister had died of the deadly disease earlier.
The Liberian health authorities then put him under surveillance as a potential primary contact. But he defied the authorities over there and managed to 'sneak' into Nigeria to attend a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The above was the account of Nigeria's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Nurudeen Mohammed, at a meeting the Federal Government called to brief the diplomatic community on efforts being made to curtail the spread of the disease in Abuja yesterday.
He told a shocked audience: "Sawyer was under surveillance but managed to find his way into Nigeria. The President of Liberia is deeply saddened that he managed to enter Nigeria."
Liberian Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Alhassan Conteh, in a similar vein, expressed his 'deepest' condolences to the families of those dead and those under quarantine over the Ebola virus in Nigeria.
Conteh spoke at the briefing of the diplomatic mission. He, however, called on the Nigerian government to put a stop to what he described as harassment of Liberians in Nigeria over the Ebola disease, noting that "association is not causation."
But that single case of Sawyer, according to officials, has created what is now described as a 'national emergency.' Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, says everybody is at risk.
More facts have continued to emerge on the category of the 70 persons who are now under surveillance over different levels of contact with the late Sawyer.
As he arrived in Nigeria ill, ECOWAS protocol officers who were at the airport to welcome the regional diplomat coming for the Calabar meeting used one of their pool cars to rush him to the hospital. These protocol officers are part of the 70 persons who are being observed for signs of the ailment. The incubation period for Ebola is three weeks.
Also, the vehicle used to convey him to the hospital and the entire ECOWAS building in Lagos where the protocol officers returned to work are now 'suspect.'
In fact, the building has been temporarily shut down, while health officials battle to fumigate the building, the entire compound and the vehicle.
ECOWAS has also suspended all its regional meetings, unless it is absolutely necessary.
Dr. Toga Gayewea Mcintosh, Vice President at the ECOWAS Commission, gave these fresh perspectives to the situation, as he reeled out efforts to curtail the disease in the region. He said the building would remain shut until the fumigation had been concluded satisfactorily.
He also clarified that the late Sawyer never went to Calabar as widely speculated. His words: "We are pleased with the efforts made by Nigeria to hold this building, we stand by the actions of the government and other actions being taken. The commission is sad about this ailment. We have suspended all meetings that will bring us together as a region, unless it is so essential or crucial. All other meetings have been suspended. We have temporarily shut down our Lagos office. The vehicle used to take the late Sawyer is still there in our Lagos office. We want to fumigate the entire Lagos office of ECOWAS."
On what the commission was doing, he stressed: "We have spread information tapes to our institutions to ensure that they are abreast of the current trends. We have also set up a task force that will be gathering information on the region of Africa to ensure proactive fight against the disease. I want to appeal to all our friends to support us .We want you to give us your technical support. The time has come for us to stabilise the situation. This goes beyond health .These is a solidarity challenge. We should get to ask between countries how we can get out of this menace. The time has come for us to put all it takes to stabilise the situation. I think today is a very critical day for me. This is a major task and we thank those who are now producing the technical support to deal with this."
Chukwu observed that Nigeria had never had any health emergency like Ebola and termed it a "national emergency."
" We have an emergency on hand. Everyone is at risk. It doesn't have 100 per cent mortality rate though. Not all infected die. In fact, the World Health Organisation puts survival rate at 40 per cent."
He gave further details on the flight, stressing that a total of 48 passengers were on that flight.
"The initial challenge was the manifest and the sitting was free. So, it was difficult mapping out the contact in the earlier hours. Some left on the next flights. Against our advice, some primary contacts left Lagos and went to other states. Everyone is at risk. WHO has sent a team to Lagos and are freely available for all kinds of support."
He said all Nigerian borders had been equipped with devices to test all passengers to and fro Nigeria, noting that Nigeria had not decided to close its borders, unless the situation required it.
He announced that Nigeria had accepted advice from the United States government and would henceforth screen all outbound passengers.
"We want to start screening passengers going out, we need to curtail the spread of the diseases even to other countries, if possible. We must insist that there must be a way to screen all passengers going out. Let me also mention that health workers are the most vulnerable. We got information that people are wearing gloves on the streets. This practice is counter-productive, unless you are involved in testing or treating.
"Seventy primary contacts are under investigation. We are in secondary contacts, and it is difficult, not to talk about tertiary contacts."
To further curtail spread, he said all crowd-related programmes by churches, mosques, and others, must have a medicinal team and participants must be screened.
On hajj, he said the Federal Government was working with the Saudi Arabia authorities to screen everybody going from Nigeria, while the Saudis would also be doing their own screening at the point of arrival. He said this was a better option.
Meanwhile, Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) has denied banning flights from Nigeria and other African countries as a result of the outbreak of the Ebola virus.
In a statement issued yesterday by GCAA, it said the information published online was "erroneous and misleading."
The statement reads: "The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority's attention has been drawn to an online publication on the above subject on Saturday, 2nd August, 2014 and we wish to state emphatically that the publication is erroneous and misleading.
"GCAA, as the sole regulator of the air transport industry and provider of air navigation service in the country, has not banned any airline from Nigeria and other African countries from operating to Ghana because of suspicion that the flights might be carrying passengers with the Ebola virus.
"We can confirm that flight operations to and from Nigeria and other African countries are normal without any interruption.
"The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority wishes to assure passengers and the general public that it is working with all stakeholders to ensure that the Kotoka International Airport and all other airports in the country remain safe and secure.