Why would a practicing medical doctor hide an Ebola case? Why did the patient who was treated in secret conceal the fact that he had exposed the doctor? More importantly, how are we going to ensure these leaks do not happen again? These and more are the kinds of questions Nigerians are asking as the Federal Government announces the spread of the Ebola virus beyond Lagos and into Port Harcourt.
The quick and hard answer to these questions is that human behavior remains the weakest link in the control and resolution of the Ebola outbreak. According to the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, the private medical practitioner who secretly treated a diplomat who had been exposed to the Ebola virus knew what he was getting into but we can only guess what motivated him to do such a risky thing. His patient, the diplomat, having escaped surveillance in Lagos was eventually tracked down and quarantined but did not fully disclose his activities probably for fear of rebuke. These instances continue a most dangerous pattern of non-compliant behaviour which sneaked the virus out of Liberia and into Nigeria in the first place, briefly took it to Enugu and now has called in Port Harcourt and we need to address this squarely if we are to halt the Ebola spread within Nigeria, in Port Harcourt.
It is obvious that in this recent outbreak across West Africa, people have escaped quarantine either in disbelief of the potential risk and impact of the disease or in distrust of available treatment. However, we cannot stop at blaming these people else we will not improve the situation considerably.
When you are asked to entrust your life to government authorities who have not always previously shown sufficient evidence of competence or professionalism in the handling of their duties, you are likely to doubt the course of action. But when the issue at stake is a disease that some publications say has a death rate of up to 90%, it is easy to want to seek other options and take your destiny in your hands.
That appears to be what Patrick Sawyer did - if you believe the theory that he came to Nigeria to seek superior help (whether spiritual as some say or medical as his widow says). That is what the diplomat who has visited Port Harcourt with the Ebola virus has done. Interestingly, that is also apparently what has lead to the severity of the outbreak across West Africa. According to a recent scientific study reported on August 28th, 2014 in an NBCNews.com article titled “Where did Ebola Come From? Likely One Person, Gene Study Finds”, the virus started in Sierra Leone with a traditional healer who was treating Guinean patients and spread to fourteen people who handled her corpse after the disease eventually consumed her. That is the same way some more people in our society might react unless we change the dialogue around Ebola in Nigeria.
I am personally very impressed with the relative success our medical and administrative professionals have recorded in tackling this virus. The reduced death rate in Nigeria has become a testimony that contracting Ebola does not have to be the death sentence we have previously thought it to be. Yes there is still no cure or vaccine, but it now appears that early identification and supportive treatment of symptoms can save more of our people and give the rest of society and the world for that matter, confidence that Ebola can be overcome.
We need to share this good news with everyone around us and let them know that seeking proper medical attention early presents our best chances of surviving. To do this successfully, we need to involve religious and traditional leaders in the dialogue. At the same time, our medical professionals need to continue to save themselves and their patients in order to reinforce the confidence that will make more infected people entrust their lives to their care.
We are in crisis but this is also a season of heroes as we celebrate Dr Adadevoh and others who are daily putting their lives at risk for our collective safety. This is my dream Nigerian spirit in action and I want to see it not only get through this Ebola crisis but transfer into other areas of our lives. Let us change the dialogue around Ebola in Nigeria so that it is contained in Port Harcourt.
Arnold Obomanu is a business analyst and the author of “The Survival Mindset: A Systematic Approach to Combating Corruption in Nigeria.” He can be reached on www.arnoldobomanu.com