Global panic heightens on fresh ebola threat

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…Nigeria, WHO mobilise to ward off epidemic

Stories by Louis Ibah

The recent announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of a fresh Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with three deaths has sent shivers down the spine of managers of Nigerian airports, regulatory agencies and many Nigerian air travelers.

“There is this fear within the Nigerian aviation industry of a possible entrance into the country of an unsuspecting   ebola patient, or carriers of the virus since the news started making the rounds that there was a fresh outbreak of ebola in Congo,” a top airline official told Daily Sun.

“The managers of the airports are unsettled, airlines are particularly worried that theirs is not the one carrying the ebola passengers, and you also find some passengers asking about the safety processes put in place to detect the sick,” added the official who works for one of the foreign African airlines flying into Nigeria and who wound not want to be named.

Why fear

The Nigerian aviation industry has every reason to be scared given that the first reported case of ebola in the country occurred on 20 July 2014, through a Liberian  lawyer and diplomat, Mr. Patrick Sawyer who by air into Nigeria. On that fateful date, Sawyer had flown into the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos from James Springs Payne Airport in Monrovia, Liberia with an ASKY Airlines aircraft. Airport officials who fist sighted him described him as having appeared to be “terribly ill” and it took few minutes upon his disembarkation from the aircraft and clearance from immigration before he collapsed at the b Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja. A protocol officer of ECOWAS was there to greet him. The officer drove Sawyer in an ECOWAS pool car to First Consultant Hospital, Obalende, and Lagos, where he later died on 24 July. Recall also that more than 11, 000 people died in the ebola outbreak which ravaged the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria between 2013 and 2015.

FAAN response

Last week, as part of efforts to  dispel fears on the safety of Nigeria’s airports as regards the ebola virus, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) announced it had reactivated screening infrastructure and personnel previously used to combat the spread of the virus in 2014 when the Liberian man, Sawyer first brought it into the country.

“We want to assure passengers and airport users of safety at Nigeria’s airports as the World health Organisation announces the outbreak of Ebola in Democratic republic of Congo,’ said spokeswoman for FAAN, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu.

“Adequate measures have been put in place to checkmate the re-occurrence of any such outbreak in Nigeria. All measures adopted in 2014 to curtail the dreaded virus is very much in place and has been fortified. There is no outbreak of ebola in Nigeria or at any Nigerian airport,” she added.

Measures

The ebola virus is not found in Nigeria and given that it was a porous screening system at the Lagos international airport that had let-in Nigeria’s first ebola casualty, the Liberian man, Patrick Sawyer, every institution concerned with the safety of airlines and passengers in Nigeria should be on alert.

In fact, it behooves on FAAN, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, and the Federal Ministry of Health to take urgent steps to reactivate the screening points at all the country’s airports hitherto dismantled when the country was cleared by the WHO as free from ebola. FAAN should not just rely on previous machines but should invest in the acquisition and installation of the latest state-of-the-art machines in  all the country’s airports  to facilitate the speedy detection of  persons that have contracted the virus.  At present, a visit by daily Sun to the Lagos airport revealed that only incoming passengers are screened at the country’s international airports, but it would be better if the screening is extended to cover both outgoing and incoming passengers.  This is so bearing in mind that on August 8, 2014, an emergency committee convened by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) under the International Health Regulations (2005) declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Among the recommendations of the emergency committee were that countries with Ebola transmission should conduct exit screening at international airports, seaports, and major land crossings and that other countries should not generally ban travel or trade. Fresh investments should also be made in training and capacity building for port health workers for effective passenger screening of departing travelers for acute illness or possible exposures.

Airlines

In the last three years, Nigeria has opened up its sky to more foreign airlines who now fly in directly or with stopovers picking up passengers from so many sub-Saharan African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The NCAA and FAAN should immediately demand that airlines report any deaths onboard or sick travelers or those that develop serious contagious disease during a flight, once they touch down any Nigerian airport. This way, upon the arrival of such a passenger, the port health workers would be in a better position to isolate and check if the traveler is infected with ebola.

Passengers’ roles

Persons who contract ebola usually show the following symptoms, sudden fever that makes them shiver unnecessary, intense weakness, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding.

Travelers to countries that experienced outbreaks of Ebola should, as usual, avoid contact with sick people, dead bodies, blood, and body fluids.

But on board an aircraft, passengers who sight fellow passengers with the above symptoms have an obligation to stand up from their seat and report such persons to cabin crew for prompt attention and possible isolation.  Above all, it is adviceable for air passengers to make use of sanitizers to wash their hands at periods of an outbreak of a viral infection such as ebola.

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