In continuation of the efforts by the State Government to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola Virus in the State, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, Monday met with traditional rulers and religious leaders urging them to help in the on-going campaign for increased personal hygiene among their subjects and members of their congregation.
Starting out with a closed door briefing session with members of the diplomatic community based in Lagos, the Governor also met with Chairmen of all Local Government Councils and Development Areas and health officers, charging the Local Government helmsmen to provide adequate protective kits to all the medical staff at the Primary Health Care Centres and hospitals across the State.
In an interactive session with the religious and traditional leaders at the Banquet Hall, Lagos House, Ikeja, Governor Fashola emphasized that contacting the virus does not mean certain death adding that whether the patient dies or lives would depend on what steps are taken after discovery of the virus in the victim.
The Governor said the State Government, working in concert with the Centre for Disease Control and other international voluntary health agencies as well as local health workers who have volunteered to join in the effort, is doing everything in its powers to ensure that the virus does not spread in the State.
He expressed regrets that the opportunities to prevent the virus from entering the country and into the city of Lagos were missed pointing out that the country would have taken precautionary measures like air travel monitor to ensure that all those coming into the country, especially from the already infected countries, were properly screened at the airports and even when the Liberian fell ill at the Lagos Airport, he would have been isolated and treated there instead of bringing him into the city.
“The first missed opportunity is that when this disease broke out in other parts of Africa we acted in the traditional way to say it will never come here. But that was the time air travel monitor into this place from those countries should have been more effective. In the event, somebody who had the disease flew into the country, took ill and had to be moved into a hospital in the town”, he said.
Noting that the Liberian would have been attended to with a reliable health facility at the airport as it happens in other countries, Fashola noted, “But they drove right through the airport into the heart of Lagos where people were now struggling to save his life. In that process, I don’t know this for a fact, but clearly they came in contact with body fluid and other contaminated discharges. Whether they were wearing gloves and any protective thing is what I don’t know. But those were the missed opportunities”.
The Governor, however, commended the hospital where the Liberian was admitted for acting responsibly and professionally enough to let the State Government know that there was a patient in their hospital adding, “That is where we take it from. We now know there is a problem and we begin a track back of who this person came in contact with and those who have come in contact with those who came in contact with him until we get to a place where we can draw the line”.
Reiterating that the Ebola disease is not an automatic death sentence for the victim, he pointed out that the Centre for Disease Control has assured that if the patient receives “Intensive Medical Care” (IMC), which, according to him, involves constant rehydration, intravenous infusions and use of antibiotics and so on, the body would be ready to fight back.
“We have put out all of the information as to how the disease can be contacted. The directive we have from the Centre for Disease Control which has been helping us develop the capacity to manage this is that this disease is not an automatic death sentence. But whether people survive or not survive depends on what we do. It depends on how early we bring the person in for treatment,” the Governor said.
He said the IMC is already working in places like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone adding that what used to be a mortality rate of about 90 percent is dropping to about 60 percent. “People are recovering from the disease”, he said adding, “The importance of this information is that once a person is suspected to manifest the disease, he is not to be kept at home or performed traditional rites on or prayed for or with the use of bitter kola; it does not work. That person must come to our Emergency Operation Centre where doctors are trained to look after such people”.
“The risk of spread in church or mosque is enormous. In the countries where the disease is presently it has been in rural areas and it has killed many. This is the first time in Africa that it is breaking in an urban centre where we are so close to one another so the potential for catastrophe is enormous if we do not act appropriately”, Governor Fashola said.
Giving a description of the Emergency Operation Unit which is at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) at the end of WAEC Road, Yaba, Governor Fashola said doctors have been trained specially to manage the viral disease “because not every doctor can go into the Isolation Room” adding, “The idea is that the virus must not leave the Isolation Room again; that is the only time that we can say we are safe.
On the condition of the reported cases of the disease, the Governor said meanwhile only the Liberian and the Nigerian nurse who had direct contact while attending to him have died adding that out of the ten secondary contacts, eight have tested positive while the result of the remaining two are being expected.
Also, according to him, those who have tested positive to the virus are in a stable condition, meaning that they are not deteriorating, while five of them are improving which means they are fighting back. “This confirms that it is not an automatic death sentence if you do the right thing and do it quickly”, he said.
Enjoining the leaders to both spread the information of increased personal hygiene and report all suspected cases to the authorities, Governor Fashola declared, “This is not a thing to be ashamed of; it is a disease from which a patient can get full recovery. It is not all persons who have high temperature that is an Ebola victim , it may be Malaria, Typhoid or Fever. But the standard protocol now is to assume until you are sure; so, all of the people that come to you for ministration must be encouraged to come to us. That is the only way we can contain this”.
Fielding questions later from the leaders, Special Adviser to the Governor on Public Health, Dr. (Mrs.) Yewande Adesina advised that any person suspected of having the virus should not be moved around but left in the place while the State Emergeny Operation Centre should be contacted to send an ambulance to the place to carry out the test adding that if the patient is confirmed through the test, such a person would then be taken in.
She encouraged all and sundry to make use of the help line saying doctors would be able to ask or answer questions that would clarify whether or not the suspected case is Ebola virus case adding that three cases were identified through such calls. She discouraged the use of traditional treatment pointing out that the virus is so deadly that such practice would only expose more people to the disease.
According to the Special Adviser, the most critical symptom of the disease is high and sustained body temperature of up to 38 degrees Celsius and severe Malaria while other symptoms could be severe headache and sore throat. Vomiting could also manifest but it could be Typhoid or Malaria, she said.
She said because the virus lives in the blood stream of the victim, contact with such person’s secretions and body fluids like sweat and blood as well as urine and feaces could be highly dangerous adding that people should be cautious about shaking the hands of strangers. She said the virus is weak outside the body and does not survive intense heat.
According to her ,“Once a person is suspected of the virus, he should not be moved around. Call the emergency toll free number, 0800EBOLAHELP; We will send our ambulance to come and conduct some tests on the person and if found positive, we take him in for treatment but if not positive, we carry out some other tests”.
At the meeting with Chairmen of all Local Government Councils and Development Areas and health officers at the Adeyemi Bero Multi-purpose Hall, Alausa, Governor Fashola also called for volunteers to serve as Environmental Health Officers at the Infectious Disease Hospital Yaba where people showing symptoms of the Ebola Virus are being quarantined, adding that presently there is only one Environmental Health Officer at the facility.
The Governor, who assured the workers not to entertain any fears about their safety, said they would always have full protection with the Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) provided in the hospital adding that they would always stay outside of the isolation centre. He also expressed delight that some doctors and health workers are showing up to help in the battle against the Ebola Virus, adding that the Nigerian medical personnel are going to be first line of defence.
Warning on the danger of not getting enough manpower to tackle the Ebola Virus scourge, Governor Fashola declared, “If Nigerians are reluctant to take the front seat for action that involves guaranteeing the safety and well being of fellow Nigerians and leaving same to foreigners, they would have no justification to being regarded as true professionals. The danger is that when it gets out of control it may prove difficult for anyone to control the spread”.
The Governor also charged the Local Government and Local Council Development Chairmen to clamp down on the indecent acts of public defecation and urination which he said is not only unhygienic but could aid the spread of Ebola.
While responding to a question on the request for a clearance from the Ebola Committee for all corpses to be buried, the Governor directed the committee to make public the process of giving clearance to the members of the public before burying their dead ones adding that if it becomes necessary the State could apply the law which has been in existence since 2003 on compulsorily apprehending and isolating someone who is suspected of possibly endangering the larger society.
Speaking earlier, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Public Health, Dr (Mrs.) Yewande Adeshina gave an overview of the steps already taken by the State Government towards containing the virus explaining that the deadly Virus is an hemorrhagic fever like disease which attacks the blood system and is transmitted by direct contact.
She said the State Government health authorities are currently watching over 200 people who have had primary or secondary contacts with the index case and is embarking upon massive media campaigns on the disease. She also warned against touching corpses dumped on the road, adding that when such corpses are seen, contact should be made with the Ministry of Health or the State Environmental Health Management Unit (SEHMU).
Present at the meeting with traditional rulers and religious leaders were members of the State executive Council including the Deputy Governor, Hon. (Mrs.) Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, Commissioner for Local Govcernment and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Ademorin Kuye and his Information and Strategy counterpart, Mr. Lateef Ibirogba, prominent personalities including the Oba of Lagos, HRM. Oba Rilwanu Babatunde Akiolu 1, eminent clerics and other traditional and religious leaders. At the meeting with Local Government and Local Council Development Area Chairmen, were also some members of the State Executive Council including the Deputy Governor, Commissioner for Rural Development, Hon. Cornelius Ojelabi, his Special Duties counterpart, Dr. Wale Ahmed and Local Government and Local Council Development Area Chairmen as well as other top government functionaries.