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FLASHBACK: ‘Crazy man’ Patrick Sawyer brought Ebola to Nigeria three years ago

Patrick Sawyer

July 25, 2014 — exactly three years ago — was the day Nigerians knew that in the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD), they had a killer on their hands.

It was the day the Lagos health authorities confirmed the death of Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American who introduced the virus to Nigeria. Although his death had just become public, Sawyer had died the previous day. Before that day, the deadliness of the virus had been underestimated by the public.

Here are a few highlights of Nigeria’s battle with Ebola, courtesy of Sawyer, and how the virus was eliminated.

THE INTRODUCTION

At about 9pm on July 20, 2014, Sawyer arrived First Consultants Medical Centre, Obalende, Lagos, from the Murtala Muhammed after disembarking from an international flight “feeling unwell”. His sister had died of the the virus in early July 2014, at a time when scant information was available about it; Sawyer had contact with the sister’s corpse, not knowing that contact with the corpse of an Ebola victim spelled death for the living.

When he arrived First Consultants, he claimed to have malaria and was so treated, but blood patches in his urine and eyes forced the hospital to carry out further checks. It was discovered he had Ebola, discovered he may have known, discovered he had deliberately sought to infect other medics; in short, Sawyer wanted to take as many people as possible to the grave.

ADADEVOH SAVED NIGERIANS

Ameyo-Stella-Adadevoh

Sawyer pushed all he could to be quickly discharged so he could attend an ECOWAS convention in Calabar, but Stella Adadevoh, Chief Physician of the hospital, vehemently refused. Instead, she triggered an incident committee that continued to study his symptoms, conducted tests and eventually detected it was Ebola.

Had Adadevoh released Sawyer, Lagos and the rest of Nigeria would have been in trouble. Adadevoh and at least two other First Consultants medics died but the rest of us live. Heroes all of them are.

THE RESPONSE FROM LAGOS

Isolation centre

Babatunde Fashola, Governor of Lagos, earned global praise for how the state ministry of health linked up with international partners (led by the World Health Organisation) and the Goodluck Jonathan government to launch an emergency response. The creation of an isolation centre at Yaba and instant deployment of funds into contact tracing and employment of more health workers helped a great deal in curtailing the virus.

Still, Ebola managed to spread to Port Harcourt, after a doctor privately treated an ECOWAS staffer who contracted the virus from Sawyer. The Port Harcourt spread was initially thought to be severe but only three cases were eventually confirmed. Two of those resulted in deaths.

THE CASUALTIES

In all, 20 people contracted Ebola in the country; 12 survived but the remaining eight died.

Sawyer’s death was on July 24, 2014. Justina Ejelonu, a 25-year-old nurse who only assumed work First Consultants one day before Sawyer’s admission, died on August 14, 2014. Adadevoh followed five days later as the first doctor and fourth Nigerian to be claimed by the virus.

A ward maid simply identified as Mrs Ukoh, and Jato Asihu Abdulqudir, a Kogi-born 36-year-old ECOWAS official who helped Sawyer with his personal effects at the airport, died as well.

The doctor who administered treatment in Port Harcourt did not survive the virus himself, although the patient whom he treated ended up surviving, ironically. Also, an elderly patient died after contracting the virus at the hospital where the doctor was receiving treatment.

THE VICTORY

The World Health Organisation (WHO) formally declared Nigeria Ebola-free on October 20, Ruiz Gama Vaz, the WHO Country Representative saying at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja: “Today October 20, 42 days after the last case of Ebola was reported, which is twice the incubation period, the chain of transmission has been broken. WHO officially declares that Nigeria is now free of Ebola. The outbreak in Nigeria has been defeated. This shows Ebola can be defeated in West Africa.”

JONATHAN’S DIG AT SAWYER

Former President Goodluck Jonathan

Jonathan, the then President, was livid that Sawyer brought the virus to Nigeria — and he left no one in doubt. While warning Nigerians against attending burial ceremonies, to prevent more casualties, he said: “Some people like burial ceremonies. This is not the time for burial ceremony, somebody is dead, he is dead, leave him there. This is not the best time for those ceremonies.

“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.”

ONE BIG INSPIRATIONAL STORY

Ada Igonoh

Ada Igonoh, one of the doctors who attended to Sawyer, contracted the virus. She was expected to die, and she saw death at the isolation centre.

She described one experience of death at the centre thus: “Shortly after Justina came into the ward, the ward maid, Mrs Ukoh passed on. The disease had gotten into her central nervous system. We stared at her lifeless body in shock. It was a whole 12 hours before officials of W.H.O came and took her body away. The ward had become the house of death.”

You must have read the story of Igonoh’s miraculous survival. Just in case you haven’t, Google is your friend!

CAN NIGERIA HANDLE ANOTHER EBOLA OUTBREAK?

Very unlikely. Want to find out why? Please read this recent investigation by the ICIR.

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