The Liberian Government on Thursday apologised to Nigeria over the importation of the deadly Ebola Virus by a Liberian-born American, Patrick Sawyer.
Sawyer arrived Lagos on July 20 from Lome but died five days after he was admitted into a hospital in Obalende when he showed Ebola virus symptons.
The Liberian-born American came into contact with 59 people in both the Murtala Mohammed International Airport and the hospital. Eight of the hospital contacts were quarantined at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Yaba. One of them, a matron, who died on Tuesday became the first Nigerian casualty. Five others, including a female medical doctor, had as of Wednesday, tested positive to the virus.
The Liberian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nurudeem Mohammed, told journalists in Abuja that President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, was deeply sorry that Sawyer brought the virus to Nigeria.
He said that the deceased was under surveillance in Liberia but that he sneaked into Lagos.
Mohammed said, “The Liberian President President has personally called to apologise on the unfortunate development.
“She specifically said her country had declared a state of emergency over the Ebola epidermic in Liberia.
‘She equally apologised that Sawyer ignored medical advice and escaped out of Liberia.”
However, hopes that the United States may send Zmapp, the experimental drug for Ebola virus treatment, appear dashed going by US President Barack Obama’s declaration that it was too early for West African countries hit by the outbreak to have it.
Obama made the US position known at a news conference at the end of an African summit on Wednesday. While he spoke at the event, the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, told journalists in Abuja that he had written the US Centre for Disease Control requesting for ZMapp.
On Thursday, Chukwu also told journalists that he had yet to receive a response from the centre.
But Obama, according to The Independent of London, said he lacked enough information to give the green light on distributing the drug, insisting the world must “let science guide us” on its use.
“I don’t think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful,” the US President said, adding that “Ebola virus both currently and in the past is controllable if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place.”
He said, “We’re focusing on the public health approach right now, but I will continue to seek information about what we’re learning about all the drugs going forward.”
The Cable News Network also reported on Thursday that Obama said, “The countries affected(by the virus) are the first to admit that what has happened is that their public health systems have been overwhelmed. They weren’t able to identify and then isolate cases quickly enough.
“As a consequence, it spread more rapidly than has been typical with the periodic Ebola outbreaks that occurred previously.”
But Chukwu told journalists in Abuja on Thursday that he was not aware that the US had turned down requests for the experimental drug.
The minister, who inaugurated Defence Identification Centre at the Mogadishu Cantonment Abuja, said he was optimistic that Nigeria would get positive response from the US.
Chukwu explained that the seeming delay might be as a result of issues relating to the production and supply of the drugs.
He stated also that the data of the drugs were still being collected since it had been used on human beings.
Chukwu however added that for now, nobody was sure of the efficacy of the drug and whether its side effects would outweigh its benefits or not.
He said, “Well, we are waiting for a response from them (US); we have made the request but of course, we believe that they will respond to us.
“But we also know that; one, this is an experimental drug, some of the data required are now being collected because it is now being used on people.
“We are not completely sure yet of its efficacy; we are not yet completely sure if the side effects would outweigh its benefits, and then secondly, since it is an experimental drug, it means it has not been produced in commercial quantity.
“So obviously, given the demand all over the world, may be, they are having challenges about the supply.”
Chukwu commended the military for establishing the first Defence Identification Centre in Sub -Saharan Africa, which according to him, is in consonance with best practices in combat casualty identification.
He said the centre would be useful in the storage of the DNA samples of serving military personnel, identification of crash victims and victims of terror attacks.
Also at the event attended by the Minister of Defence, Gen. Aliyu Gusau, and all the service chiefs and heads of security agencies in the country, the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, urged military and security personnel to utilise the centre by providing their blood samples.
Badeh said the centre would make it possible for all fallen military personnel to be identified and given a proper burial.
It was gathered that the military leadership decided to establish the centre after 46 soldiers of the 234 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, Monguno, burnt to death in an accident.
According to him, the 46 soldiers were buried to the chagrin of their families who complained that their corpses were not identified.
Don’t close borders against Nigerians
At another function where the Health Minister met with representatives of embassies and international agencies in Nigeria, Chukwu pleaded that foreign borders should not be closed against Nigerians.
He said it would be wrong for any country to do so since Nigeria had not closed its own borders.
He said, “We are prepared to treat every infected person . Representatives of the various foreign countries in Nigeria should advise their home countries against closing their borders against Nigerians because everything is being done to contain the spread of the disease.
“We will be destroying the whole world totally if every country should close down their borders. But if you think closing down your own borders will help you, go ahead and do it.
“We have not closed down our land borders because we are weighing all possibilities. The ministry of health will not be the last to advise the Federal Government to close the borders if we are convinced that doing so is necessary.
“Unless we are sure that all our land borders are fully secured, closing the border in Nigeria will be counter-productive because we still have many porous borders which foreigners would explore without being screened.”
He commended the international community, the World Bank, the ECOWAS and the private sector for supporting Nigeria’s efforts at combating the disease
Chukwu also said Nigeria would not allow foreigners infected with the Ebola virus to travel out for treatment.
He said that WHO had noted that about 1, 700 persons had been infected with the virus and that more than 900 of them had died since the outbreak of the disease.
The minister said, “This was the figure released yesterday (Wednesday) and it could have been more today.
“If the incubation period of the virus had shifted a little bit, the Liberian- born American , Mr Patrick Sawyer, who imported the disease would have after participating in the ECOWAS summit in Calabar, Cross River State, returned to the US where it would have manifested.
“This means that currently, the whole world is in danger. For Nigeria, it is a national emergency but for the whole world, it is a global emergency. Everyone, every nation and every individual is at risk.
“Clearly, a victim is condemned to prison by the disease but he or she is not condemned to death. The victim is in prison because he is quarantined when suspected to have the virus and isolated when he has the disease. It is not condemnation to death.
“So, having Ebola virus is not a death sentence. People can survive it and an international research is still ongoing to make sure that any carrier of the virus survives.
“It is true that we are in possession of the manifest of the passengers that flew in the same aircraft with Sawyer from Lome to Lagos but the problem is that the seats in the aircraft were free so we have to go after all the 48 passengers.
“All those who landed with him in Lagos were immediately placed under surveillance alongside all the airport staff and hospital personnel who had direct contact with them.
“At the moment, one or two of the passengers are hiding . Some of the primary contacts, against our advice, had even left Lagos and travelled to other cities.
“We have put in place the infrared tarmac detectors gadgets to screen outgoing and incoming passengers at the Lagos and Abuja airports. We are also screening in 49 land borders, 13 airports, and 18 sea borders.
“Currently Nigeria has diagnosed seven Ebola virus victims. The figure included the late Sawyer. There are six Nigerians and one of them unfortunately died on Tuesday. Others are under investigation.”
The minister added that medical personnel were the only people allowed to wear protective gloves in the hospitals.
He called on non-medical personnel at the borders to stop wearing protective gloves.
He said the Federal Government was ready to work with the Saudi Arabia authorities on how to ensure that pilgrims were well screened before being allowed to participate in the Holy pilgrimage.
Chukwu, who lamented the deteriorating state of health workers who had contracted Ebola, urged the international community to assist Nigeria in combating the menace.
He also announced that “there will be introduction of life insurance scheme for the health workers that will be recruited so that it would go a long way in helping the family of the doctor when issue of Ebola arises.”
The minister added, “The issue of Ebola is affecting our health workers but we are assuring them that government is doing everything possible to protect them; the health workers the ministry is going to recruit will have life insurance so that when anything happens, the family of the doctor will not suffer the loss.”
ECOWAS closes Lagos office
The VicePresident of ECOWAS, Dr. Toga McIntosh, said the sub regional organisation was in support of all strategies being employed by Nigeria to stop the spread of the Ebola virus.
McIntosh disclosed that the regional body had closed down its Lagos office pending when health officers would declare it fit for reopening.
He confirmed that ECOWAS invited Sawyer to its annual retreat in Calabar alongside other ECOWAS ambassadors, national officers, unit heads, and heads of ECOWAS institutions.
He said, “Our protocol officers, including the driver that went to meet Sawyer at the airport are among those under surveillance and are under careful observation. We are monitoring them very closely.
“Also, we have suspended all our activities for a while. In our Lagos office where we initially hosted the late Sawyer, we are collaborating with the Lagos State Government to fully fumigate the entire premises because the vehicle which was used to take him to the hospital is in the compound.
“He had interacted with people used the toilets and other facilities.
At the moment we have closed down our office pending when the health officers will declare it fit for reopening.
Also, the Officer in charge of the WHO in Nigeria, Dr. Rex Mpazanje, said Ebola virus in Nigeria had been contained at the primary contact level.
He commended Nigeria for declaring an epidemic when the case was discovered.
However, the Liberian Ambassador to Liberia, Prof. Al-Hassan Conteh, said the attention of the embassy had been drawn to several cases of harassment of Liberians in Lagos and other places in Nigeria.
He said, “I think that as we combat this disease, it is important to carry out a campaign that association is not concession. The fact that the index case came from Liberia, does not mean that all Liberians in Nigeria are infected with the Ebola virus.”