Ebola: Sawyer not the only ‘crazy’ one

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda

Email: oiyanda@yahoo.com Twitter: @mightyng

Olumide-IyandaAn infuriated President Goodluck Jonathan spoke in what may be termed un-presidential manner on Monday, August 11, when he called Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian reputed to have brought the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) to Nigeria, a “crazy man”. Speaking three days after he declared a national emergency and approved a N1.9 billion intervention fund to contain the spread of the vicious virus, leader of Africa’s most populous country declared: “Sawyer that brought this Ebola to Nigeria, his sister died of Ebola. And he started acting somehow. His country asked him not to leave the country, let them observe him, but the crazy man decided to leave and found his way here.”

The question however should be how did the “crazy man” find his way here?

According to official explanation, the Liberian government was aware of Sawyer’s Ebola status and had placed him under surveillance. He however escaped quarantine to attend an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional conference in Calabar, the Cross River State capital.   ECOWAS Vice President, Dr. Toga Mcintosh, told journalists at a recent briefing in Abuja that “because he (Sawyer) had contact with somebody who died from Ebola, he was quarantined in his own country, but he evaded the quarantine and came to Nigeria.”

What the Liberian government don’t want us to hear is that its senior officials approved Sawyer’s trip to Nigeria, even after people close to him had isolated him when they became aware that he had contact with his sister who died of the virus on July 8 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

Given the red alert over Ebola and the excruciating pain a terribly ill Sawyer reportedly felt back in his home country, it should have been easier for an elephant to enter a room unnoticed than for the man to travel out of his country without official clearance. But a manifestly sick Sawyer departed from the James Spriggs Payne’s Airport, Monrovia, on an Asky Airline, and landed at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos on Sunday, July 20. He was rushed to First Consultant Hospital, Obalende, where he died on Friday, July 25, leaving behind sorrow, tears and blood. As at the time of writing this, three of the people who came in contact with the man who has since assumed the tag, index case, have died in Nigeria. Two of them were nurses at the hospital. The third victim was 36-year-old Jatto Asihu Abdulqudir, a Protocol Assistant at ECOWAS Lagos liaison office.

The Federal Government on Wednesday said a total of 198 persons were being quarantined for the EVD. While 177 were in Lagos where the index case was reported, 21 persons were under close observation in Enugu. The revelation was made by Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, while briefing State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Jonathan.

In the words of Maku, “All those who had primary contacts have been quarantined. Secondary contacts have also been traced. So far, the number of people that have been traced is 198. Out of this number, 177 are in Lagos. Some are in quarantine; some are being monitored by health specialists. Twenty-one persons in Enugu are also being watched. This is because one of the nurses that were involved with the treatment of the index case, unfortunately, disobeyed medical instructions and somehow travelled to Enugu. All those who she was in contact with including, her husband, are under quarantine. The medical team has been able to trace all those who made contact with her. Health workers are now in all our border units. All the entry points into this country and exit points, we have port health workers that are working in our airports and seaports.”

Ebola may have entered Nigeria by the action of one “crazy man”, but evidence has shown that the spread was aided by the negligence of both Liberian and Nigerian authorities. There was nothing on the ground to deal with such emergency.

We had enough time to put tight control in place at the various entry points in the country to screen new arrivals, especially from countries where cases of the vicious virus had been documented. Other countries did not wait for an index case to get to any of their hospitals before they started screening people arriving through their air and land borders. We didn’t need to wait for Sawyer before setting up screening centres at the federal and state levels.

Nigeria was simply in denial. Speaking after a FEC meeting in April, Maku had assured that “Nigeria is prepared right now to curtail any outbreak particularly given reports that few countries on the West Coast like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have reported cases of Ebola fever. Given our proximity to these countries, Nigeria is ready. The ministry has every precaution, including getting vaccines and medicines to ensure that should there be any incidence in Nigeria, everything would be dealt with precision.”

One wonders what medicines and vaccines the minister was talking about, knowing that the experimental drug, Zmapp, was only approved for use by the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week. He definitely was not referring to brine and bitter kola. Instead of putting the right structures in place, the government was making promises it could not keep.

If a Sawyer could fly from Liberia to Nigeria with all the seemingly secured process in place, we need not imagine what the situation is like at our porous land borders. Sawyer became the recognised index case because he arrived the country with tell-tale signs of the illness. Someone with no obvious sign of the virus could easily have slipped through immigration at the airport and gone on to spread the disease to unsuspecting Nigerians.

Exposure to the Ebola virus at St John’s Catholic Hospital in Liberia has resulted in the death of its 52-year-old director, Patrick Nshamdze; 75-year-old Spanish priest, Miguel Pajares; and a Congolese nun. It has also claimed two in Nigeria.

Sure, President Jonathan is justifiably distressed at the tragic importer of the disease to Nigeria. But Sawyer is not the only crazy one. There must be a name for those who had enough time to prepare for an Ebola emergency but did nothing meaningful to make sure it did not pass through immigration.