By Abiose Adelaja Adams
Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, has asked the federal government to consider closing Nigeria’s borders with neighbouring countries battling with an epidemic of the Ebola virus disease.
The measure, he said, is necessary to contain the disease which is easily transmitted across borders.
“The virus is no longer a local, but an international problem. This is because it is easily transmittable across the borders and boundaries,” he said while addressing the media on Friday in Lagos.
“And we must now choose the treaty obligations that we hold under the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) treaty and perhaps short term benefits in terms of economic cost to human life.”
The ECOWAS treaty places no restriction amongst the West African Countries but rather encourages cooperation.
According to the governor of the state that recorded the first case of the deadly virus in the country, stopping the cross border transmission of the disease is a core national security issue that requires serious attention.
He said “there is no pretence about the issue of such importance, since these few West African countries who are at the epicentre of the virus pose danger to others.”
Even as Fashola spoke, the project director of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Abdulsalami Nasidi, identified the country’s land borders as the immediate problem in containing the disease.
Nasidi said the country will henceforth not receive anybody or corpse from the three Ebola-endemic countries, except certified free from the infection.
This decision is based on the arrival in Anambra State, of the corpse of a Nigerian suspected to have died of Ebola in Liberia, for funeral rites.
Nasidi, while addressing newsmen on Friday, explained that “the dead body came into the country through Air Gambia. It was received in Lagos, precisely on July 21. From there, it was transported by road. It was received in a private mortuary.”
Although the Anambra government has sealed the hospital and quarantined the mortuary attendants, he explained that all those who handled the corpse would be registered and tracked in order to prevent an outbreak.
He added that those who accompanied the corpse and the mortuary handlers “are
already under quarantine in Anambra State.”
The Ebola virus is said to be 200 times more infectious in corpses. This explains why about 40 per cent of infection was acquired at burials. International standard practice recommends highly sanitary burials or cremation and decontamination of all materials used in the final rites.
Nasidi said mechanisms are in place to checkmate a reoccurrence. “For instance, a plane was to come into the country with a corpse but the airport health rejected it,: noting, however, that “Our problem now is the land border.”
The Ebola endemic countries are Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the
virus has infected 1323 people and killed 729.
Nasidi, said the affected countries will be notified through the diplomatic channels of the government’s new policy to contain the virus.
Despite the fact that WHO does not recommend trade or travel restrictions, the deadly nature of the disease has occasioned the call for border closure at various quarters.
Nigeria’s West African regional carrier, Arik Air as well as Asky airline, have suspended all flight operations to these countries. Similarly the U.S Centre for Disease Control has warned Americans to avoid non-essential trips to these countries.
Meanwhile, the Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has banned public gatherings, closed all schools and suspended football activities, all in a bid to control the spread of the viral disease.
In related development, Lagos Commissioner for Health, Jide Idris, confirmed that there were two suspected persons ( out of the 59 earlier contacts), who had developed fever during the week, but when tested for Ebola posted negative.
Up to 70 persons are being tracked and monitored throughout the incubation period of 21 days, from their exposure to Patrick Sawyerr, the Liberian American Ebola victim, who died in Lagos last week.
The world considers this outbreak of the Ebola the deadliest. Symptoms usually start off with fever, high temperature, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat then it graduates to vomiting and diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and lastly, bleeding from orifices of the body such as eyes, nose and mouth.
The disease has no cure and no vaccine yet. Treatment only alleviates symptoms as the immune system of the infected grapples for survival.