Health Minister downgrades Ebola Euphoria, says Nigeria Still At Risk

Onyebuchi Chukwu, Nigeria's health minister.

The Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, has downgraded the message of euphoria he delivered Tuesday to that of cautious optimism, saying it’s still early for Nigeria to claim to be free of the Ebola Virus Disease.

“Ebola has been curtailed,” an excited Mr. Chukwu said with glee on Tuesday. “All 129 people under surveillance have completed the 21-day observation period and only a person is symptomatic and is being observed.”

But speaking to journalists Wednesday at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting, Mr. Chukwu, a professor, said Nigeria is still at risk of the Ebola virus despite having only one confirmed case.

Saying the country had only succeeded in taming the virus, the minister said between one to three new cases might surface from people currently under surveillance.

“I don’t want us to move from panic to euphoria which may be a problem,” the minister said. “Nigeria is doing well on containment, all the disease in Nigeria were all traced to Patrick Sawyer. We have not eliminated the disease because we still have a case we are managing which may have had a third party contact. As long as there is a case of ebola disease, Nigeria is still at risk. So we have done well on containment but the problem is not over.”

He said Nigeria remained at risk of Ebola and that that would only change “when the very last case of Ebola virus disease under this current epidemic has gone”.

“As we speak, there is a case we are still managing. And even that case we are still managing must also have had her own third degree contacts, many of whom are part of this number of people that are under surveillance.
“So until we give a clean bill of health to every contact, we cannot even say we have eliminated the disease,” Mr. Chukwu said.

The minister, who briefed journalists alongside Information Minister, Labaran Maku and the Minister of Power, Chinedu Nebo, said he briefed the Council on the state of the fight against the Ebola epidemic as has become the norm since it broke out in the country.

He said Nigeria has so far recorded 13 cases which include the index case, out of which seven was managed successfully and discharged.

Five deaths were recorded while one case is still being managed, Mr. Chukwu said.

According to the health minister, “this is a good one for a disease that has 90 per cent mortality rate but we must maintain that vigilance.”

Responding to questions from journalists on the postponement of school resumption date to the October 13, Mr. Chukwu said, “It relates to primary and secondary schools. We feel the children might be at risk.The children, unlike adult, are very playful and might not be too careful. So it’s better to keep them out of school until such a time the Federal Ministry of Health will advise the government that it’s safe for them to return to school.”

He also noted that Nigeria was not banning mass gatherings because “there is no need to panic. The greatest killer today in Nigeria is not ebola. You will agree with me that 29 days after the first index case was recorded, there has been more deaths from accidents, malaria and what have you. That is why we appeal to the media which has done very well uptil now that is important not to misinform the public that we are no longer at risk. As far as there is still one case we are still at risk”.

On whether Ebola still remained a national emergency with the one case remaining, Mr. Chukwu said, “Nigeria by declaring a national emergency has sent a clear message to the world that one case is still an epidemic because Ebola and lassar fever are deadly. We have successfully contained the virus and that is good.”

On the N1.9 billion emergency fund released to tackle the ebola disease, the health minister said the money is meant for emergency and not meant to be distributed to states like Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC).

The N1.9 billion is a special intervention plan fund‎ to intensify measures to contain the spread of the disease such as the establishment of more isolation centers, case management, contact tracing, recruiting additional personnel, screening at the borders and procurement of required items and facilities.

He explained that the N200 million released to Lagos State was not part of the N.9 billion but to assist the state which has effectively managed the virus, adding that what the Federal Ministry of Health is doing with the N1.9 bill is to procure equipment that will be distributed around the states of the federation.

On border closure, the minister said, “We have not seen any need because we are not panicking. If it becomes necessary we will do so. The WHO protocol is against border closure. What we are doing is screening people at entry and exit points.

“The foreign media are playing games with the world with the reportage of the ebola virus. Out of the over 1,000 cases that died only five is in Nigeria but they lump us together with Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia with higher cases because we are all in West Africa. When they want to report on the ebola virus they start with Nigeria first. Why are they not including Spain and the United States that has two cases too? But that is why we are pleading with you to continue to help us.”

On the fate of resident doctors, Mr. Chukwu said he is yet to receive an official letter from the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) calling off their strike. He noted that for now, the residency programme remains suspended until the President decides otherwise.

“Residency programme was suspended by the federal government, meaning they have been disengaged.

“It is true that over the weekend we read in the papers that the Nigerian Medical Association has called off the strike. But we are yet to see any letter communicating that to us. We will move forward when we get a letter from NMA suspending the strike, then the minister of health will advise Mr. President, so for now residency programme remains suspended,” he said.

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