The Executive Secretary, Federal Capital Territory Primary Health Care Board (FCT-PHCB), Dr. Rilwanu Mohammed, in this interview with Stanley Onyekwere, explains why residents must not panic, but be vigilant in the wake of the deadly Ebola virus threat amid heightened anxiety over its possible outbreak in the country. Excerpts:
What’s your take on the mounting fears over imminent outbreak of Ebola in Nigeria?
The recent outbreak of Ebola in Guinea is the second after the firstone occurred in 1976 in one of the rivers in Congo. It is actually a deadly virus, which has no cure or vaccines, and therefore the whole world now is at very high risk of the virus, because the world is a global village. So it is very important that we should be able to curtail the spread of this virus. As of now, it is about seven hundred and sixty-plus, who have died and over one thousand are infected, including our medical personnel and some family relatives. Butnow we want to allay the fears of people here, after the death of the Liberian, who died in Lagos on arrival into the country. That’s the most important; but I think that we should temporarily close our borders; this is the appeal from the experts. We know Nigeria is a very good market and central to Africa nations, as all the Africa people come in to carry out their businesses here. Guinea and Ghana have closed their borders. What they have done, is that taken preventive measures against the deadly virus. But in our case, we are a little bit loose. We have illegal borders, which the Nigeria customs and Immigration authorities are trying to curtail. So even if you ban or screen people from coming in throughthe international, we should be able to also closed our borders. For instance, in Ghana they have even gone ahead to screen those living along the borders.
Specifically, how prepare is the FCTA against the spread of the disease in the event of any outbreak of it?
The FCT administration through its Health and Human Services Secretariat (HHSS), has designated some centres as places where we can keep suspected infected people, should in case we have any traces of outbreak of Ebola in anywhere in the territory. Already, we have a centre in Karu general Hospital, so we don’t want to take any chance; because if you don’t isolate any patient that is infected with the deadly virus, other people will get infected as well. Therefore, whoever that is found to have been infected with the disease, we must isolate the individual from the rest of the people in the community. Secondly, we are trying to see how we can seriously train our health personnel especially those at the community level, on how best to go about the issue. But the only thing that is militating against this important training is the ongoing doctors’ strike. In fact, the issue of the strike has actually brought backward. I think, this strike is really bad for the FCT and the nation at large, therefore the doctors’ should sit with the government and look at the issues of contention, and then compromise to end the strike, if for nothing because the issue of this epidemic going on around our neighbours and all over the world. And it is unfortunate that our medical personnel are being ruined because of our negligence. Importantly, the Federal government has the apparatus for testing people for the virus. For us at the Board, we are working hand in hand with director of FCT Public Health Department, who is in charge of driving this process, of trying to curtail this virus in case there is any outbreak in the country, because it can actually spread like wild fire. But the most easy and important thing to do in the face of an imminent outbreak of the disease is for us to ensure and embrace best environmental hygiene practices in the Territory. We should always be washing our hand with hand sanitizers or with soap or ash; it is very important, as it is the number one protective measure against the disease. Shake hands with people, and when you want to eat, ensure that wash your hands, because you never can tell what infections they are carrying. And People should avoid touching dead bodies especially if you are suspecting they died from ebola. This is because supposedly that a person dies from ebola disease the risk of contracting the virus is 100 %.What’s the board doing to prevent the disease from spreading through medical personnel, who are said to the most people at risk of getting infected with ebola virus? Most importantly, one of the things that we do in preventing the disease from spreading is to ensure that the medical personnel and other people caring for patients should protect themselves with the universal recommended protection measure, using necessary medical apparatus.
Recently the FCTA charged residents to be vigilant against threat of Ebola virus; why is the FCTA worried about Ebola when there is no case recorded in the Territory?
At the moment, the disease has no cure or vaccines, so why shouldn’t we be concerned with how to prevent our people from getting it, by urging them to be vigilant and report any suspected case of the virus around them. Like I said, the world is a global village, so every day visitors are coming into the country especially the FCT, and infected ones among them may be incubating it. We are trying to prevent the infection from coming here, and even if it happens that it comes in, let us prevent it from spreading. Then it is very important to issue that warning, as we try to carry out intensified health promotion to the door step of everybody, to proper enlighten them on how to prevent or mitigate the effect of the scourge.
Ultimately, we are worried because the reservoir of Ebola is not known but it has been discovered that the wild animals are the ones carrying the virus, mostly the fruit bird. Surprisingly it is not even killing them, but it is humans that come close to this bird that are actually getting infected with it. And if a bird carrying the virus ate a part of Mango and you plunge the same mango and eat the remaining part of it, you may likely get infected from the droplet of the bird. Equally, what is worrying us is that there are other wide animals that are also transmitting it like monkeys; and if it is true, why are we still keeping monkeys in homes as pets, when we can keep them in the zoo, at least for now, since there is an outbreak of the disease. Also Nigerians are fond of eating bush meat, but we are telling them to either avoid it or properly cook it before eating. One thing that I most point out is that in all the excretion, saliva and other fluids released from an individual, who is infected with ebola virus implicative, including when he or she is coughing or sneezing, because it goes into the aero zone and can infect other people. That’s was why when medical personnel are treating infected patients, they cover their noses and mouths, to avoid contacting the virus from them. So you can only imagine what will happen to the spread of the deadly disease, supposing that a commercial sex worker gets infected with the virus. And the case fatality rate is very high; it is about 90 %, that means only one would survive out of ten cases; or out of 100 cases, only 10 people may survive. And even when they survive they are also carriers of the virus, who can also transmit it if care is not taken. Now we have risks at the animals in the bushes and unidentified carriers moving in and out of their communities. So, we are dealing with is a very stubborn virus; it is the most stubborn virus in this world, which has no vaccine or treatment. So anything that has no vaccine or treatment, the best thing to do is to properly inform the public and then prevent the disease from spreading. This, we are doing through the electronic and print media.
Specifically, what’s the level of community engagement in the process of trying to curtail the outbreak or spread of the disease in FCT?
To ensure effective community engagement, we need to have a committee or task force on Ebola, because at this moment we don’t have one in place. To this end, we are going to advice the Secretary of HHSS that we need to have this committee to be known as Ebola Response Squad; and in this squad we are going to involve all the important stakeholders such as health workers, traditional rulers and religious leaders among others.