This is official. Lagos is not the only state in Nigeria that has been hit by the deadly Ebola Virus Disease; Enugu has become the next in line.
Twenty one persons out of the 198 so far quarantined because of the virus are in Enugu, says the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku.
Maku told State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja on Wednesday that Enugu came into the picture because one of the nurses that treated the American-Liberian, Patrick Sawyer, shunned medical advice and travelled to the city.
Sawyer, the index case of EVD in Nigeria, died on July 25 in an Obalende, Lagos hospital five days after he arrived in the country.
The matron of the hospital died last week while an Economic Commission of West African States Protocol Officer, Jatto Abdulqudir, who picked up Sawyer from the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos passed on on Tuesday.
He said all those the nurse came into contact with, including her husband, were currently under quarantine.
The minister said, “All those who had primary contacts have been quarantined. Secondary contacts have also been traced.
“So far, the number of people that have been traced is 198. Out of this number, 177 are in Lagos. Some are in quarantine, some are being monitored by health specialists.
“21 persons in Enugu are also being watched. This is because one of the nurses that was involved with the treatment of the index case, unfortunately, disobeyed medical instructions and somehow travelled to Enugu.
“All those who she was in contact with, including her husband, are under quarantine. The medical team have been able to trace all those who came into contact with her.
“Health workers are now in all our border units. We also have health workers that are working in our airports and seaports.
“We are calling on citizens specifically to cooperate. If health workers say you have had come into contact with A,B,C, don’t move to anywhere, respect that judgment. It is very important.
“In one or two cases where we have had disobedience, we lost one of them and this one now moved with it to another place (Enugu).
“So, we are urging Nigerians, please to help us in making sure that all these messages and appeals we are making on you, we implement them.”
On possible treatment, Maku said some Nigerians who felt they could assist in developing therapies for the virus had started approaching the government.
He said a special committee set up for that purpose had started collating the various claims with a view to verifying them and making recommendations to the government.
The minister added, “In terms of possible treatment, the Ministry of Health has set up a special committee specifically to take claims from Nigerians who believe they could help and so far we have had a lot of reports from Nigerians at home and abroad who came forward to say they have possibility of developing therapies that could help in fighting the virus.
“There is no cure so far anywhere in the world. Even the trial drug in the US is still a trial drug. It has not been established that it can cure EVD.
‘‘One of the doctors and research experts that came forward is Dr. Simon Agwale, who has been one of the frontline global researchers on developing vaccines for HIV and other viral diseases.
“He also came forward and said he could help, both in terms of working out to develop a vaccine, which he said he has started work on with his fellow experts in the United States. .
“The Minister of Health has given support and directed him to the committee. He also discussed the possibility of a certain therapy that they can now use which could be applied. And again, that is being discussed. And once it is approved, it could be used.”
Maku said contrary to some media reports (The PUNCH not included), no case of the virus had been reported in Abuja.
Urging the media to always get their information right before publishing, Maku stated that the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, was the only person that could confirm any new case of EVD in Nigeria.
Maku also denied another media reports that some Indian doctors were being forced to treat Ebola virus victims in Abuja.
“We did not force any doctor to treat any Ebola virus patient. As a matter of fact, there are no Ebola patients in Abuja. The report did not mention the names of the Indian doctors and the affected hospitals.”
He urged Nigerians not to panic as the best measures in the world had already been put in place to stop the spread.
Maku also threatened that the Federal Government would not hesitate to prosecute anybody found to be spreading unsubstantiated information on the virus.
He said information such as the recent one urging Nigerians to bath with salt were criminal in nature .
The minister said, “Dangerous rumours are criminal in nature. Those who spread them are liable to prosecution. Please know that you are violating the laws of the land when you spread information that is not true and can damage public health. We will trace you and prosecute you if you do so.”
He insisted that the situation had not gone out of control and that the Federal Government wanted to wipe the virus away from the country.
“The measures taken so far are the best anywhere in the world. No reason for corporate organisations or foreign investors to get troubled. We can and we shall defeat the virus,” he added.
Maku said the Minister of Health, in his briefing to the council indicated that before Sawyer brought the virus to the country, Nigeria had been on a state of alert since it was reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone.
While saying that sensitisation campaigns were organised, he added that a committee was set up by the President to put in place structures and policies to combat the disease.
He added that the government had embarked on advocacy visits to groups such as the National Union of Road Transport Workers and religious leaders.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan and the 36 state governors rose from a crucial meeting on Wednesday with a resolve to end EVD in the country within the shortest possible time.
The meeting, which lasted four hours, was also attended by state commissioners for Health, country representative of the World Health Organisation and other Federal Government officials saddled with the responsibility of public health.
Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State; Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State; Maku; Chukwu; the WHO Representive , Dr. Rui Voiz; and the Director of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Abdusalam Nasidi, briefed State House correspondents on the meeting’s outcome.
They said the meeting which received briefs from all the state governments on the virus focused on infection control, case management, contact tracing, capacity building as well as sensitisation among others.
They also resolved that synergy and collaboration among the Federal, state governments, global partners and civil society was important to achieve success.
“We rose from the meeting with the conviction that this virus will be defeated. We reassure Nigerians that the government has taken every measure possible to contain the situation,” Maku said.
Describing the meeting as a productive one, the Minister of Health said participants listened to every state about their state of preparedness. Lagos State spoke about how it is managing the virus.
Chukwu said that in the coming days, the Federal and state governments would continue collaboration in the areas of provision of isolated facilities, surveillance in all the states as well as laboratories for diagnosis.
He listed the laboratories that have capacities to carry out the diagnosis in the country as including the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s laboratory located inside the Lagos University Teaching Hospital; the centre’s laboratory in Asokoro, Abuja; the University College Hospital’s laboratory in Ibadan; and the Redeemer’s University’s laboratory on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
Chukwu added that the government would send a mobile laboratory to Enugu in the coming week while it would also ensure that laboratories were put in place in Jos and Kano.
While allaying people’s fear over the continued spread of the virus, the minister said the two cases reported to the Federal Ministry of Health had tested negative.
He added that the two corpses brought from Liberia to Anambra and Imo States had also been found to be negative.
Chukwu said the patient in Abia State who was rumoured to have contracted Ebola was also discovered to be reacting to a malaria drug earlier administered to him.
FG grants waivers for two corpses
The minister reiterated government’s prohibition order on the movement of corpses.
He said the government had granted two waivers for the remains of two Nigerians who died in Kenya and India to be brought to the country after ascertaining the causes of their death .
He disclosed that while one died of diabetes in Kenya, the other died of cancer in India.
He said due diligence was carried out before the waivers were granted.
Fashola said with the completion of the 21 days incubation period for the primary contacts, next week would be defining for the nation as the fate of the secondary contacts would be determined.
The governor said government’s target was to ensure 100 per cent tracing of all contacts.
He added that government had resolved to ensure proper protection for health workers who are at the frontline in managing the Ebola cases by providing best equipment and protective gears.
He warned Nigerians that the virus was not one that its victims should be kept in prayer houses for miracles.
Chime said with the level of commitment displayed at the meeting by the participants, he was sure that the virus would be conquered.
“We will box Ebola into a corner. We have all resolved to fight it and we have the capacity to do so. I believe we will certainly conquer,” the governor added.
The country representative of WHO commended Jonathan for the steps taken so far to combat the virus.
He said the declaration of emergency and the creation of isolation centres across the country were good steps .
Maku disclosed that the contact tracing of all those who travelled with Sawyer to Lagos and later proceeded to Calabar had been completed.
He said nobody was found to be affected by the virus.
At the commencement of the meeting, Jonathan had led Vice-President Namadi Sambo; Fashola and other governors to perform the symbolic sanitising of their hands.
Ebola lines unreachable
Shortly after Maku had boasted that measures taken by the Federal Government to curtail the spread of the virus “are the best anywhere in the world,” The PUNCH got a shocker when it tried the 080-EBOLA-HELP lines and found out that they were unreachable.
Findings as of Wednesday afternoon showed that while some of the lines were perpetually busy, others rang out.
In the wake of the Ebola virus outbreak, the Lagos State Government had advertised certain telephone numbers on both electronic and print media. It encouraged the public to call the numbers to give reports or seek information.
One of the lines, 080-EBOLA-HELP, which later metamorphosed to a 12 digit number (080326524357) was unreachable as of 3:17pm. Another number, 08033086660 rang out at about 3:55pm when a call was put through to it.
The number, 080326524357, later went through at 8.45pm. A female who picked the line however did not speak much before the call ended. Subsequent calls after that were not answered.
Efforts to speak with the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, were not successful as he neither picked his calls nor responded to messages to his line.