Ebola outbreak: Nowhere is safe until virus is contained in Africa, claims the top doctor who beat it in Nigera

Dr Faisal Shuaib masterminded Nigera's clean bill of health

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The Independent Online

No country in the world will be safe from Ebola as long as the outbreak continues in West Africa, the doctor who led Nigeria’s hugely successful containment of the virus has warned.

Africa’s most populous country was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation on Monday, despite warnings of a potentially “apocalyptic urban outbreak” only three months ago.

The country’s response, which involved rapid, coordinated action by the government, health workers and aid agencies, along with meticulous tracing of people who had been in contact with Ebola patients, has been held up as an example to the world.

However Dr Faisal Shuaib, the incident manager for Nigeria’s Ebola response, told The Independent that Nigeria was still under threat, and that no state could afford to be complacent.

“Yes we have contained an outbreak, but there’s always a threat that we could be infected again by individuals travelling from affected states,” he said. “The outbreak in West Africa is two different stories, a success story in Nigeria, and a story of human tragedy [in the worst-affected states].

“There are still lot of resources required in Sierra Leone and Liberia to contain the outbreak. We need international clarity that as long as the outbreak continues in West Africa, then no country, no individual in the world is safe from contracting the disease. We need to mobilise resources – human, material and financial – to these countries to contain the outbreak there,” he said. 

“Then and only then can we say we have dealt with this as a global community as one human race.”

 

The WHO, which hailed Nigeria’s response as a “spectacular success story”, has said the country remains vulnerable to Ebola patients travelling to what is the region’s commercial and transport hub.

The agency has also warned that the country could become a victim of its own success, with a risk that patients and their families from the countries worst affected by Ebola – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – will come to the country to receive the best treatment.

“Many desperate people in heavily affected countries believe that Nigeria must have some especially good – maybe even magical – treatments to offer,” a WHO statement said earlier this week. 

Nigeria confirmed its first case of Ebola on 23 July. The virus entered the country via an infected Liberian air traveller, who had been visibly ill before even boarding his flight. The arrival of Ebola in Lagos, Africa’s most populous city with a population of around 21 million, rocked public health officials around the world.

United States Consul General in Nigeria Jeffrey Hawkins said at the time that the “last thing anyone in the world wants to hear is the two words: ‘Ebola’ and ‘Lagos’ in the same sentence”, saying it raised fears of an “apocalyptic urban outbreak”.

Nine of the doctors and nurses who treated the first patient became infected and four died, and the virus was also carried to Port Harcourt, the country’s oil hub, where a doctor who contracted it had close contact with hundreds of people before being diagnosed.

However, government health officials were able to track down all of the known contacts of the Lagos patients, and 99.8 per cent of the Port Harcourt patients, each of whom were monitored by health professionals for any early symptoms.

In total the country only ever recorded 20 cases and eight deaths. With no new case for 42 days, Nigeria was declared Ebola-free.

Dr Shuaib attributed the success to a “war room” approach, which saw all Ebola responses coordinated by a single Emergency Operations Centre. It was also crucial that the country had been forewarned about Ebola, and also avoided public panic with a national media campaign which included President Goodluck Jonathan addressing the nation on television, and film stars delivering televised facts about Ebola.

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