The Financial Times in a recent article announced that ‘Nigeria shows that Ebola is not unstoppable’. In a country of over 170 million, there have been only 21 Ebola cases and eight deaths until the virus was conclusively contained. The good news of the eradication of Ebola in Nigeria is nothing short of a miracle, supported by some very lucky facts. Fact one to explain that contrary to the most optimistic of predictions, few cases were registered, is that Ebola started in Lagos.
Many would agree that though we usually find very little to praise in any government in Nigeria, the speed and efficiency with which the Lagos State authorities supported by teams of health workers reacted was exemplary.
Lagos a big and crowded city of about 20 million people provided the perfect dense and seemingly chaotic environment for the virus to spread. Contrary to what most feared, the virus did not spread and was contained following the sacrifice of a brave doctor, Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, and the prompt reaction from the cities’ government and its health workers. The health workers in question in spite of the then ongoing Doctors strike that began earlier on in the year answered the call of duty. The Governor and his team on the other hand showed true governance and the importance of investing in the city, its infrastructure and its people. Well before the leadership in the face of Ebola, Governor Babatunde Fashola, Lagos state governor’s government had become synonymous with progress and development. Following the successful containment of Ebola, it would seem the state’s investment in its health sector and in urban development paid-off.
Consider for example that Ebola had not started in Lagos. Even the very fact that every street and every road is identifiable, a far cry from say Port-Harcourt where urban planning is behind, makes the first and most important task of tracking people for observation far less challenging. Lagos was able to trace all those who were on the flight with Patrick Sawyer, the infected Ebola victim from Liberia, and in a matter of days. We were lucky. And as can be seen in the cases of Liberia and Sierra Leone, the alternative scenario is too painful to imagine. Question now is, how much longer until we run out of luck? How much longer until a new strain of disease emerges and a state that has neither the capacity, the know-how, nor the leadership is hit with such an outbreak?
Where are the research centres? Today is Ebola, tomorrow will be another virus! How are we going to be able to deal with this fact if we are not prepared?
As of today, I do not know of a state of the art virology research institute in Africa. We are in dire need for such an institute, institutes that that can compete with the Max Plank institutes of this world, and on African soil — funded and led by Africans. This is especially as it is known that many new zoonotic diseases — a disease caused either by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi that can be passed between animals and humans—will come up in the near future through climate change and destruction of natural habitats of wild animals. To put this in perspective, scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals.
We need to build research institutes across the continent from East to West and down to the South. We need the Dangote’s of the continent to pledge a substantial amount of money to support these efforts à la John’s Hopkins. It is also a duty.
As we celebrate the end of Ebola in Nigeria, and praise the leadership of Lagos state government, the health workers, and the Nigerian Ministry of health, let us not lose sight of the big picture and now and immediately begin work on ensuring our future, independent of luck.
Crédit photo : EC/ECHO