The news that ebola virus disease (EVD) had arrived in Nigeria made me despair for the future of this country.
The previous few months were awful. In April 200 schoolgirls from the Chibok Government Secondary School were kidnapped and two bombs killed 88 people and injured over 200 at the Nyonya Motor park bus station near Abuja. An explosion in the Apapa area of Lagos was rumoured to be the work of a suicide bomber. Trips to the shopping mall now involved having the car checked for incendiary devices- a routine we’d previously undergone only when visiting the premier hotels.
Bad as they seemed, these were innocent days for Lagosians.
On July 20, Liberian/American national Patrick Sawyer flew into Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. He was suffering from ebola virus disease (EVD). Sawyer later died in the First Consultants Medical Centre in Obalende, Lagos.
Sawyer told the medical team on duty he had malaria but hospital staff became suspicious he had EVD when 2 tests for malaria proved negative. When told he may have EVD, Sawyer became agitated and attempted to leave the hospital. Several hospital staff were infected after treating Sawyer and restraining him. A fifty year old nurse died days after treating Sawyer and more were to follow, Including senior endocrinologist Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh.
We braced ourselves for the worst, knowing that if EVD reached the general population the chances of containing the disease was remote. Thankfully, the worst didn’t eventuate.
At present the total number of deaths from EVD in Nigeria is 7 (5 in Lagos, 2 in Port Harcourt). 12 people have survived the infection and 350 contacts under medical surveillance have been discharged. 16 people will remain under surveillance until the 21day incubation period has passed. The Federal government has approved the re-opening of schools for the 22 September although this is being resisted by the Lagos state educational authorities. As of today, no active cases of EVD are being treated in Nigeria. We feel relieved but remain vigilant.
Jeff and I have had some adventures resulting from the presence of EVD in Lagos. On July 31 we flew out of Lagos for Namibia to go on Safari. We would also be visiting Botswana and Zambia. We boarded our flight to Johannesburg with no issues and spent a pleasant day in the city shopping at a mall in the east of the city. Given that we live in Lagos, we were mildly amused at the constant reassurances we would be “safe” in the hotel and with our driver.
The next day we boarded our flight to Namibia and sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour while the airline staff quizzed a young Namibian man about his recent travels through several African nations. None of the nations were affected by EVD. Eventually the passenger was discovered to have swelling and a rash on his arms. He explained he had an allergy to iodine and had unwittingly eaten fish. This explanation wasn’t accepted and he was re-located to an empty row behind me and Jeff and made to wear a face mask. The pilot announced a passenger was being “isolated” because he had “flu virus”. No one was fooled.
Jeff and I heard the exchange between the passenger and the flight attendant so were confident he didn’t have EVD. He had no other symptoms and his red rash, which we could see, was nothing like the haemorrhages caused by the disease. We were held on the tarmac in Namibia for 4 hours while a special infectious diseases unit was assembled.
The atmosphere on the plane where we were sitting turned hostile and one passenger was threatened with prosecution after taking photographs of the young man in “isolation”. He handled the situation with dignity and resisted frothing at the mouth and coughing on people (Jeff assured me this is what he would have done! I believe him).
The doctors arrived in full hazmat suits (I’d have been disappointed if they hadn’t) and quickly determined the young man didn’t have EVD. In fact, the only people they were excited about were me and Jeff because we’d come from Lagos. After some persuasion, they let us disembark.
Over the next 2 weeks of our holiday the situation in Lagos became alarming as more people succumbed to EVD. Jeff and I weren’t concerned about catching the disease. More worrying was the news Cameroon had closed its borders with Nigeria and suspended all flights. If we returned to Nigeria and other nations followed Cameroon’s example, we may not be able to leave Nigeria for an indeterminate period of time. We had to make a decision about whether to return and risk being stranded if things got worse.
In the end, we didn’t hesitate more than a few minutes. Nigeria is our adopted home. Jeff has work commitments and sometimes we have to accept the expatriate life isn’t without risk.
Shortly after returning to Lagos, we discovered some of the countries we visited on safari had suspended flights from Nigeria, which would’ve meant no holiday for us.
We’ve become accustomed to having our temperature tested multiple times a day, depending on where we go. Dettol wipes accompany us everywhere but we haven’t changed our lifestyle as a result of EVD.
Although it’s early days, Nigerians have proven they can work together and rise to meet a crisis. Perhaps we can feel some optimism for the future of Nigeria.
How do you feel about the success of global efforts to fight ebola virus disease?