Ebola: Nigerians suffer stigmatisation abroad

A Nigerian medical student in her mid twenties (she requested that her name be withheld) returned to Nigeria after concluding her first degree at a top university in China. She returned home to celebrate her graduation as a medical doctor. Her family in Kaduna State was throwing a party to celebrate her successful feat, and she decided to spend two weeks in Nigeria.

While the celebration was on, she received an e-mail from her school informing her of a scholarship offer to proceed for her master’s degree.

She accepted the offer.

The school then advised her to return to China as soon as possible.

Although she never fell ill nor had contact with any of the hundreds of persons screened for Ebola in Nigeria, she was made to suffer what she called ‘humiliation’ by Chinese authorities.

Although she had been screened at the Nigerian airport for Ebola before her departure, on arrival at the Beijing airport in China, a list of passengers coming from countries affected by the Ebola outbreak was called.

More than 3000 persons have died from the virus in West Africa, mainly from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra-Leone. Dozens of Nigerians were later infected with the virus when Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American, brought the virus to the country. Mr. Sawyer and six other Nigerians have died from the Ebola in Nigeria.

At the Beijing airport, the medical graduate’s  ‘special’ group were told to alight from the aircraft before other passengers were taken for medical examination.

“When I arrived in China, the list of passengers coming from countries affected by Ebola was called by the medical officers in Beijing, China,” she said. “We were asked to come out of the plane before other passengers. We were taken to a room for examination. Body temperature was checked and few questions were asked, for example, do you have headache? Are you vomiting?”

But that was not to be all. From there, she was isolated in a room where she was made to stay for 21 days – the incubation period of the virus.

She was released on September 12 and has commenced her Masters programme. Her case is, however, just one of the many forms Nigerians suffer discrimination as a result of Ebola.

Nigeria’s contingent to Keeping Children Safe in Africa Conference, which held in Cape Town from September 3 to 5, were denied visa by the South African embassy due to Ebola.

One of the key participants from Nigeria, Oge Chukwudozie of Save the Children Nigeria, who was to present a paper was among those denied entry. Someone else, a non-Nigerian, had to present her paper for her.

When contacted on the efforts by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure there is a stop to the discrimination Nigerians suffer, its spokesperson, Ogbole Amedu-Ode, said he was on leave and could not make any comment.

Some government officials have, however, expressed concern with the apparent stigmatisation Nigerians go through due to the Ebola virus.

One of such is Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs.

Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa on September 6 noted that the stigmatization must be addressed before it gets worse, and as a lawmaker she would work with relevant government agencies to do the needful. She explained that in many instances, there were hardly any medical checks to ascertain the health conditions of such Nigerians.

The lawmaker cited another example of Adeseye Adeyemi, a Nigerian who decided to wed his Sri Lankan heartthrob in Sri Lanka; and wanted his Nigerian-based family to attend the reception.

Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa said the Adeyemi’s “were terribly treated by Sri Lankan authorities.”

She said all family members were quarantined in the Sri-Lankan airport lobby for about 18 hours with no access to food, water, or toilet facilities. The family was subsequently deported with no medical check after the prolonged wait.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated with the removal of the name of the medical graduate who was quarantined for 21 days. She requested that her name be withheld for personal, family and professional reasons.

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