Ebola centre coming amid fear, protest

7 years ago

Olusola fabiyi writes that the fear of the deadly Ebola disease is spreading in the Federal Capital Territory

It was a security briefing, aimed at informing Nigerians about the ways the security agencies have been combating the security problems confronting the nation. The conveners of the event were well kitted as they armed themselves with the necessary ‘armoury’.

But instead of carrying arms and ammunition, their hands were covered with gloves while their noses were covered with masks. Many journalists who were at the event were astonished at the way, the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency and the spokesperson for the State Security Service, Mike Omeri and Marylyn Ogar, respectively, were “kitted.”

This episode was an indication of how real the fear of the deadly Ebola virus is in the Federal Capital Territory, even though no case has been recorded there.

A few days after this, some ministers – after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting – were detailed to brief journalists about what transpired at the meeting. One after the other, the ministers, who included the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku; and his Health counterpart, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, walked into the press centre where they spoke with journalists.

After educating them on the need to protect themselves against the virus, they brought out bottles of hand sanitiser from their pockets, which they shared with the reporters. The ministers asked the journalists to spread the gospel of protection against Ebola across the nation’s capital.

Like the proverbial harmattan fire, the ‘gospel’ is fast spreading across Abuja. Many pharmacies, which were hitherto begging people to buy hand sanitisers, have run out of stock.

The mode of interaction among the residents has also changed. Even at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, cab drivers, trolley pushers, airport officials and a few petty traders have started avoiding the touch of passengers. When our correspondent visited the airport to monitor the screening of passengers at the facility, he observed that passengers were avoided by cab drivers, as they distanced themselves even while asking if they needed a drop.

Similarly, trolley pushers tried as much as possible to avoid being touched by passengers at the facility, especially passengers arriving from Lagos. A taxi driver told our correspondent that since the announcement of the spread of the virus to a few persons who had contact with the late Patrick Sawyer at the Lagos airport, there had been increased apprehension at the NAIA.

The driver, who simply gave his name as Thompson, said, “That announcement compounded the fear here because those (infected) people were innocent and now they have Ebola. What a pity. There is no need for me to have contact with neither you nor anyone that I’m to take from here to his or her destination. It is not an insult but just a precaution. If those (infected) persons at the airport in Lagos had distanced themselves from Sawyer, maybe they would have been free of the disease now.”

At the airport, our correspondent observed that officials who screened passengers had gloves and masks covering their hands and noses even as they distanced themselves from passengers during the screening process. The tension at the airport was very visible as passengers avoided body contacts with strangers, in a bid to avoid the virus.

Emmanuel Okala, a passenger at the airport, said, “It is wise to avoid contact with people you don’t know this time around, as we look forward to containing this dreaded virus. It is something everyone has to do for us to stop the spread, since the government has stated that it is now a national issue and not just in Lagos.”

The fear of the virus gripped the residents of Kuje in the Kuje Area Council when they heard that the government was planning to situate an isolation centre in their area. In fact, the council Chairman, Ishaku Tete, made it clear that they would not allow the facility in the town.

“I will resist and fight anybody or institution that is trying to bring an Ebola centre to Kuje even if it will cost me my position as chairman,” Tete was quoted as saying.

The Youth Leader in the council, Abdullahi Mohammed, also vowed to mobilise youths and concerned members of the community to resist the centre in Kuje.

“We are ready to lay down our lives for the welfare and health of the people of Kuje, instead of allowing such a facility here,” he said.

The Executive Secretary of the FCTA, Dr. Ademola Onakamayo, had visited the Kuje General Hospital to brief the workers, mostly nurses, on the project. It was also learnt that training had been arranged for the nurses on how to handle Ebola cases and patients. The executive secretary, who drove in his private car to the hospital on Sunday, disguised himself by wearing a cap and jeans trousers.

The activities of the people did not, however, go down well with the FCT Minister, Sen. Bala Mohammed, who asked Tete to change his campaign against the establishment of the centre in the area. Angry Mohammed told the chairman, who had presented the protest of the Kuje residents against the move, “I will hold you responsible for the success or otherwise of the project. And I warn you that nothing should happen to stop it!”

The chairman at a sensitisation session to enlighten stakeholders on the centre, said people in his jurisdiction were not comfortable with the project. He drew the attention of the minister to the fact that the General Hospital where the planned centre would be was a busy place, and that pregnant women, children and other normal patients always flood it.

“Bringing an Ebola centre to such a crowded hospital will amount to mass murder because if it catches one person, be rest assured that it will spread to all the residents,” he said.

He also appealed to the minister to consider taking the centre to an empty Infectious Diseases Hospital in an isolated place in Zuba. But the suggestion drew the ire of the minister.

Meanwhile, the NOA has urged the residents not to panic over the outbreak of the virus. The NOA Assistant Director, Medical Orientation Programme, Dr. Ayoola Olufemi, who said this in an interview, added that the agency was sensitising Nigerians to stem the spread of the virus across the country.

He described Ebola as a global threat and a national emergency. He said, “The Ebola virus must be tackled headlong and this is being done by the government at various levels. It is a reality that the virus is here with us and what we need to do is to take precautionary measures against it. Panic is not the solution to Ebola. Nigerians are not supposed to panic. All we have to do is that we have to work towards checking the spread through enlightenment.”

According to Olufemi, people should know that there is a virus that is new to the country.

“The only way to protect ourselves from getting the virus is to increase our personal hygiene, environmental hygiene and report any cases of illness immediately,” he added.

To further enlighten the residents, Mohammed has constituted a technical committee to manage the threat of the virus in the territory. The committee is chaired by the FCT Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretariat, Dr. Demola Onakomaiya.

Unveiling the committee at the Life Camp, the FCT Minister, Mohammed made it clear that the measure is a proactive one as no case of the virus infection has been recorded in the FCT so far.

The terms of reference of the committee include to work out modalities for responding to the threat; to create awareness on the nature and symptoms of the virus; proactively prepare an action plan for its containment, to work out ways for effective surveillance of the population, visitors and travellers; and to recommend tools and methods for managing cases if they arise – among others.

Mohammed restated the decision of the government to designate and isolate a ward at the Kuje General Hospital for management of possible victims of Ebola. He allayed the concerns by some residents over the choice of the hospital as the centre for the management of victims. According to him, all precautionary measures have been put in place to ensure that the designation of the ward will not endanger the health of workers at the hospital – as well as residents of Kuje generally.

He therefore called on leaders, especially traditional rulers and youths in the area, to cooperate and ensure that the government’s well-intentioned measures in this respect are not undermined. He cautioned against any form of incitement of the people, stressing that as a responsible government, the FCTA would not do anything that would expose the people to danger.

He drew attention to the fact that all the states of the federation have designated hospitals for treatment of anticipated victims, even as he stated that it was the wish of the FCT Administration that the virus would never spread there.

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