Proudly Nigerian!

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If there is anything every Nigerian should be proud and cheerful about, it the manner of fighting the Ebola virus! The first country in the world that would have Ebola cases well treated and the patients certified healthy and discharged is Nigeria!! Nigeria recorded this feat before almighty United States of America, whose two infected doctors were managed and discharged only on Friday, about a week after Nigeria’s feat.

Ebola, until Nigeria “shocked” the world, had no known cure. It was a disease perceived to be “far away” from Nigeria and considered never to come around. It was a disease about which Nigerians only used to read on the internet and inside the pages of newspapers, until a Liberian diplomat consciously imported it into the country. Hence, Nigeria was one of the last countries prepared for the virus or containing any scourge if it occurred. In view of the poor state of the public health system, instability in the health sector and the incessant and ongoing strike action by medical practitioners, the country was considered doomed if Ebola was to spread into the country. But it came and it started spreading, no thanks to the Liberian index case in Lagos.

Against the backdrop of Nigeria’s breakthrough, therefore, it is pertinent to consider once again, how dangerous the disease is. The Ebola virus, once in the bloodstream of the patient, destroys the immune system and begins to eat up every part of the cells and tissues, leading to intense weakness, sudden fever, sharp headache, persistent sore throat, joint pains, and then vomits, internal bleeding, and finally death- all between 2 and 20 days. Unlike other manageable diseases, anyone with Ebola was doomed to die. There was no escape route. So, it became labelled by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the deadliest disease to date. There have been multiple cases of Ebola-induced death in Guinea and Sierra Leone and to date, Liberia is the worst hit.

Immediately the disease spread into the country, Nigerians got caught in a haze of apprehension. Palpable fear gripped the low and mighty. No one is immune to it. It is easily transmittable through physical contact with a person already sick by Ebola. Handshake and contact with body fluids, including sweat, urine or saliva, can transmit it. It was therefore difficult news for Nigerians when they heard of the first case, the second case, third, fifth and sixth of Ebola patients, most of who were medical personnel who handled the Liberian index case. It became more difficult times when it was again reported that two nurses and a doctor had died of the virus. It even got worse when countries, particularly India and Saudi Arabia advised their citizens not to come to Nigeria and when Singapore detained a Nigerian for special screening. He turned out to be negative. Cameroon, our immediate neighbour to the east, closed its borders against Nigerians and friends in Benin Republic began to write on Facebook: “If you enter Nigeria, you will either be killed by bomb, machete or Ebola”.

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It was a hard time in Nigeria’s history. But the Giants of Faith were praying, medical scientists were having sleepless nights and the Federal Ministry of Health as well as the Lagos State Government were not resting on their oars. It was therefore, not really surprising and indeed most gratifying when the news broke out that Nigeria had become the first country to successfully treat and discharge an Ebola-infected patient. Not one or two patients, but more, were treated and certified Ebola-free. The USA government and WHO commendations to the Nigerian Government days after, is a testimony of a giant feat in medicine. What makes it more gratifying is the fact that the inventor of the drug administered, Nano Silver, is a Nigerian female medical practitioner based in Canada. No matter the criticism from the world powers- particularly the USA (producer of the first test-drug, Zmapp) which described Nano Silver as pesticide and the initial gullibility of government that stopped the use of the drugs- Nigeria has broken world records in medicine and should have the eternal credit for it.

I have seen and heard other people’s views, which included criticisms about the way the Nigerian authorities are handling the disease and spread. As a critic myself, I know that those comments were unnecessary, unkind and baseless. The Minister of Health has to be commended for feeding the nation with regular updates, raising the awareness level and breaking the news of the successful use of experimental drugs. The Ministry has been proactive in ensuring a special allocation of 1.9b was made to combat the spread in the country, N200m made available to Lagos that seems to have known cases and where the index case was handled, and the distribution of medical equipment for screening at airports and borders, and distribution of sanitizers to public institutions.

The Lagos State Government needs to be commended for its effective management and preventive measures put in place. The government had even called for the closure of the Nigerian borders to contain the outbreak on a large scale. Nigeria (Lagos in particular) is known to be the spiritual hub of West Africa, where everyone comes to seek healing. There have been reported cases in Lagos of two foreigners seeking cure and eventually arrested and taken to the quarantine facility. Someone, last Friday, mentioned a case of a Liberian that came into a fellowship centre at The Bells University area of Sango Ota seeking cure for Ebola and who was immediately driven out of the premises. That fellowship centre got it very wrong. They should have called the General Hospital and reported the case immediately, for arrest and quarantine. Now the patient is walking free and spreading the disease- I pray not- as he will not disclose elsewhere that he is suffering Ebola.

Take or leave it, Nigeria should be proud of itself and we deserve to be cheerful about the news of being the country that showcases breakthroughs in medicine. But of course, it should not be surprising to all. If not for economic mismanagement, corruption and paying of attention to wrong priorities by government, which have led to human capital flight (brain drain) over the years, Nigerians are talented, enterprising, and strong-willed people. They have a “never-say-die” spirit and are happy people. For instance, the best expatriate medical doctors and nurses in South Africa, USA, Saudi Arabia, Canada and United Kingdom, are Nigerians. No wonder, the breakthroughs in medicine over the years!

One would however, have loved to see these specially talented persons converge here and make things happen, if government can create the enabling environment. My father-in-law, a septuagenarian, for instance, is a retired senior Mechanical Engineer with Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill, who now runs a farmhouse powered solely by the wastes of fowls, in his countryhome, Ajase-Ipo, Kwara State. He does not need petrol and he does not need PHCN (NEPA) any more. That is the rare skill of Nigerians!

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