Nigeria Orders For Experimental Drug, As FG Steps Up Contact Tracing

The Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, has said that Nigeria has made applications to the Japanese government for an experimental drug named TKM-Ebola for the treatment of patients of the the Ebola Virus Disease in the country.

Speaking at the National Council on Health meeting in Abuja on Monday, Onyebuchi said the recommendation to request for the drug was made by the Treatment Research Group, TRG, set up last month to look into treatment of the disease.

“We are now considering this profile and brief to enable us reach a final decision on making it available to our patients,” the minister said.

The drug, which got the approval of WHO last month to be used in humans, has been shown to have strong antiviral effect against the influenza virus following phases I and II human trials.

“It is now going through phase III clinical trials; it is shown to have strong antiviral property against Ebola Virus in vitro and in vivo. These and the fact that it is considered safe, having passed through phases I and II clinical trials, makes it a good candidate drug for use in emergency situations as the EVD, he added.

This step as a part of a holistic approach to the containment of EVD in Nigeria. The drug, TKM-Ebola, is designed to target strands of genetic material of the virus (RNA). It interrupts the genetic code of the virus and prevents it from making disease-causing proteins.

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Speaking further at the Council meeting on Monday, Onyebuchi also observed that Nigeria’s capability to contain the Ebola Virus Disease, EVD, will depend largely on aggressive contact tracing, strong surveillance systems and appropriate health education and communication.

He expressed happiness with the progress made so far in containing the disease but noted that this may be sabotaged if people do not cooperate with the incident management committee by voluntarily observing surveillance rules.

He called on Council members and all stakeholders to work together to urgently halt and reverse the trend. “We call on all contacts under surveillance to abide by the advice given to them by the Incident Management Committee,” the minister urged.

Attention to aggressive contact tracing is coming on the heels of reports of EVD outbreak in Port Harcourt, last week, where a doctor, Ikechukwu Emenuo, secretly treated one of the primary contacts of the index case, Patrick Sawyer.

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The primary contact named, Koye Olu-Ibukun, is a diplomat at the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS , who welcomed late Sawyer at the Lagos airport on July 20. He was reported to have travelled to Port Harcourt on the day Sawyerr died, switching off his phones and not voluntarily surrendering himself for the mandatory 21-day surveillance.

Reports say he took ill in Port Harcourt and got late Emenuo to treat him in a hotel after which he recovered but the doctor contracted the virus and died.

By World Health Organization standard one of the ways to stop transmission of the virus is by active contact tracing, because when people slip out of surveillance, authorities miss the opportunity of early detection and treatment and also endanger the lives of others.

Nigeria has recorded three cases of people’s non compliance with surveillance rules. First is that of late Sawyer’s lack of compliance with the Liberian government’s Disease Surveillance Team’s, which resulted in the importation of the virus into the country.

Second is that of a nurse (amongst those under surveillance for contacting Sawyer) who travelled Enugu State to meet her family in early August. Third case is that of the diplomat who escaped surveillance team in Lagos to travel to Port Harcourt.

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Onyebuchi however said right education and communication that will not instill fear or stigma should be employed to encourgae anyone who’s had contact with an infected person to be monitored for the given period.

WHO has warned that if transmission is halted, the disease, which has currently infected over 3,000 people and killed more than 1500 persons across four counries in West Africa, might infect up to 20,000 people or more.

Addressing 19 state health commissioners and representatives of secretary of Health and human services, who were present at the meeting the minister gave the latest figures of confirmed Ebola cases in Ebola.

“The total number of cases treated at the isolation ward in Lagos State stands at thirteen (13). The total number of those discharged is seven (7). The total number of deaths among those treated in Lagos is five (5), and the total number currently under treatment in Lagos as two (2) and both patients are stable.”

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