As we watch man threaten its very existence with its inhumanity to itself, our focus is very dangerously taken off a bigger peril. While we plant bombs and launch arsenals in a bid to win unwarranted wars, a silent war against the human race is being declared by an even bigger threat to humanity.
An ongoing epidemic of the Ebola virus is spreading throughout West Africa. The world’s deadliest Ebola epidemic is currently ravaging many communities in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, among others. So far, the World Health Organization has reported a total of 888 Ebola cases, including 539 deaths since February this year. In a statement, the organization expressed how dire the situation has become by labeling it a ‘precarious’ one which had surged at an unprecedented rate. Figures released by WHO in April indicate that there have been 157 suspected cases, including 101 deaths. Essentially, what we are witnessing is the slippery slope that has the potential of leading to the most severe outbreak of Ebola ever recorded in recorded history, both in the number of cases and fatalities.
In Liberia, there have already been 21 cases, including 10 fatalities, of which five have been confirmed as Ebola. Mali has seen nine suspected cases with tests showing that two of them did not have the virus. Also, one death has been recorded in Ghana since the outbreak started. Various organizations, including the US Center for Disease Control, European Commission and ECOWAS, have been donating funds and have mobilized personnel to help counter the outbreak. Heads of West African governments have met under WHO auspices and have agreed on a coordinated regional strategy. However, much more is needed in terms of effort, cooperation and funds and much more is required from every single person living in the West African region, in terms of awareness.
Ebola was first discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). The virus is named after the Ebola River where one of the first recorded outbreaks occurred. Bats are believed to be largely responsible for the Ebola virus. Studies have shown that the virus was originally transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission, with fruit bats of the ‘Pteropodidae’ family considered to be the natural host. The largest-ever outbreak was in 2000-01 in Uganda, with 425 cases, about half of whom died, according to WHO estimates. From the time the virus was identified in humans, pharmaceutical researchers have been unable to develop an effective drug or vaccine to combat the disease.
The treat of Ebola cannot be underestimated by any of us or by the governments within the region of West Africa. It is a ruthless killer; one of the world’s deadliest viruses, killing up to 90 percent of those infected. Much like so many other incurable and harsh diseases before it, the public seems to be somewhat carefree about learning the facts of it at a time when it can be controlled. Granted, at this very point, the Ebola virus is a huge threat to all of humanity but, at this time, it is also a threat that can be brought under control because the epidemic is still in the early stages.
We must protect ourselves from Ebola. And we can do so by first knowing the facts about the virus and doing everything possible to prevent its spread. We must empower ourselves with knowledge of the symptoms to look for and our government must immediately start a nation-wide awareness scheme.
The disease itself is contracted through contact with infected blood or through the exchange of body fluids from an infected person or animal. Early symptoms of the disease include, fever, headache, chills, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, backache, and joint pains. Later symptoms include bleeding from the eyes, ears and nose, bleeding from the mouth and rectum, eye swelling, swelling of the genitals and rashes all over the body that often contain blood. It could progress to coma, shock and eventually death.
Presently, there is no vaccine or specific treatment for the Ebola virus but anyone infected must be admitted into hospital as soon as possible if they are to have any chance of survival.
The view of Ebola from Nigeria is extremely disturbing. The news that the virus has reached Ghana, where a single US citizen was reported to have been infected, is one that Nigerians and the government needs to take very seriously. Presently, there has only been that single case reported in Ghana, but that one case is all the warning we need!
The question now is; exactly how prepared is Nigeria to prevent and combat this scourge, in the event it needs to? Is the Federal Government equipped enough to forestall or limit the Ebola plague if indeed it needed to do so? The fact that the Federal Government is currently inundated with a profound level of insecurity in the nation, primarily by murdering, blood thirsty, evil and crazy insurgents; does it have the wherewithal to preempt such a potential plague?
Proactively, other countries across West Africa have already begun bracing themselves against the spread of the epidemic, with countries like Senegal closing the border it shares with Guinea. Liberia and Guinea are now currently doing all they can to try and control the virus from spreading further.
While Nigeria has not reported a case of Ebola, the Federal Government through the Minister of Health, Oyebuchi Chukwu, recently admitted that there is a real threat to Nigeria judging by the rate at which the virus has been moving. The Minister said, despite the threat, preemptive measures, such as the production of information leaflets, have been taken by the Federal Government. If so, that measure is just not adequate enough in preventing the entry of the deadly virus into the nation’s borders. It is outrageous to think that the mere sharing of leaflets is adequate enough to fight an uncompromising killer like Ebola.
The problem of our porous borders must be addressed, not only to combat security but monitor the influx of disease as well. A ferocious awareness and sensitization campaign, giving the public information on the risk factors and protective measures of Ebola, through mainstream media, social media, in hospitals, schools, markets, industries and government offices must be launched with immediate effect.
The awareness campaign has got to be educative and shocking, particularly in pointing out that the virus is highly infectious and has no known cure or vaccine. Furthermore, the government should ensure that health workers and practitioners have all the information they need in addition to providing them with extra protective gear such as gloves.
While we ponder on the sub-regional scourge of the Ebola virus, its fatal effects, the current threat to Nigeria and the realization that there is no known cure for the disease, halting the spread of the virus must involve every Nigerian. Everyone should be alert, involved and be on the lookout for any signs of the disease. Everyone should do their bit by learning more about Ebola, protecting themselves, ensuring that their environments are cleanly maintained and also improving on personal hygiene, like washing hands often. We must all maintain methods and practices of disinfection, cleanliness, observation of contacts, rodent control and precaution in any interaction that requires the exchange of bodily fluids.
Infection can occur through eating fruits that have been contaminated with by bats with the virus. As a result, it is vital to wash every fruit before eating. Likewise, the creative manner in which some Nigerians devour bush-meat has to be carried out with utmost caution, because if we have learnt anything from these kinds of diseases, it is that their natural reservoir is usually wild animals, especially wild monkeys and wild rodents.
For now the Ebola virus is yet to visit Nigeria; one hopes it stays that way. One also hopes the spread of the virus in other West African countries can be brought to a complete halt. As individuals, we each have a responsibility and duty of care in disease control. Let us invest our time into learning about the Ebola virus, let us each make an effort to stop its spread.
So while man-kind faces the threat to its very existence through the self-inflicted bombs, missiles and wars it imposes on the human race, it would be worth our while to unite and battle the bigger threat currently to humanity… the threat of the Ebola disease.
Ms. Musawa, a lawyer and development thinker, writes a syndicated column for Premium Times. Please give her a feedback @hanneymusawa. You can also visit her Website- www.hannatumusawa.com