Following two cases of escape from quarantine and surveillance by two Ebola virus patients from Lagos to Enugu and Port Harcourt, the Ministry of Health has said it would approach the National Assembly in order to enact a binding on patients under surveillance during outbreak of epidemics such as Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
Also on Saturday, August 30, 2014 former President Olusegun Obasanjo described Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian American, who brought the Ebola virus into Nigeria as devilish, adding that he came to the country with the connivance of some Liberian officials.
Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, told THISDAY Saturday that the review of the quarantine law became necessary given the current Ebola outbreak.
According to him, “we are strengthening surveillance and we will work with the National Assembly to review the country’s quarantine law.”
“Apart from the two known cases (of escape) to Enugu and Port Harcourt respectively, no other cases have been identified” adding: “nonetheless” there is need to strengthen or set in motion an enabling law to prevent patients from escaping surveillance,” he added.
Nigeria has an existing Quarantine Act, which was enacted in 1926. This Act has however become grossly inadequate.
In view of this, Senator Clever Marcus Ikisikpo recently sponsored a bill that seeks to repeal and re-enact the Quarantine Act.
The bill if passed, seeks to make provisions for preventing the introduction into Nigeria and from Nigeria, dangerous infectious and communicable diseases, organisms and agents and to repeal the Quarantine Act, 1926.
In a bid to prevent the further escape of Ebola patients in isolation centres as well as those placed under surveillance, there are indications that the Federal Government may be considering assigning security agencies to monitor the movement of Ebola patients under surveillance.
Already, there were reports last Wednesday that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) was looking at several legal instruments that might be used to charge Ebola patients who intentionally spread the virus to the general public.
A source within the ministry of health told THISDAY that though it is not yet certain, if it becomes necessary, government will not hesitate to take such steps.
This came as a medical expert and member of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Henry Ewunonu, said the time had come for government to bring in security personnel to track down and checkmate the movement of Ebola patients to prevent them from spreading the virus.
Ewunonu, who spoke with THISDAY, said: “Security should be brought in to track down any Ebola patient escaping quarantine or surveillance. Ebola patients intentionally spreading the disease are death agents to the public. It is not a human right issue”
He told THISDAY that “government can do anything for the overriding national and public interest to keep Nigerians protected. Ebola patient transmitting the virus is worse than a bomber.”
“Anyone, including medical officers, hiding Ebola patients is like hiding a bomber. And as such, the person can be charged as associate in crime,” he submitted.
However, the Director of Public Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Bridget Okoeguela, informed THISDAY that calling in security agencies to monitor the movement and behaviours of Ebola patients is difficult.
“It is difficult to bring in Police and other security agencies to monitor Ebola patients. When they are on surveillance, they are restricted, that does not mean they cannot move but they cannot leave where they are staying,” she said.
She added: “When they are on surveillance, we check them every day to see their health, whether they are having fever or other symptoms of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).”
Also, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said the Nigerian diplomat attached to Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Olubukun Koye, who sneaked into Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital and transmitted the virus lied to avoid thorough medical screening.
Project Director of NCDC, Prof. Abdulrahman Nasidi, told THISDAY that he deliberately left Lagos to avoid surveillance.
“We are all human; not that we are not in charge or in control, he never said the truth, he was telling us lies,” Nasidi explained.
“He avoided us, switched off his phones and he wickedly went to Port Harcourt to infect some people else. The disease is very dangerous, so even some medical officers are hiding, they don’t want to come out and show themselves.”
NCDC Project Director further stated that “we are lucky that we were able to pick up this case, it is not easy. He didn’t tell us the truth. He just escaped, which is like going to harm and kill people.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Khaliru Alhassan, said yesterday that the Federal Government was committed to containing the Ebola virus disease in the country.
Alhassan made this known during a chat with newsmen in Sokoto. He stated that the scourge had already been contained in Lagos State, while a special team was mobilised to Rivers state to contain the scourge.
“Presently, a specialised team comprising staff of World Health Organisation, Centre for Disease Control, Atlanta United States and Geneva and Medecin Sans Frontiers are already in Port Harcourt to address the situation.
“We are confident we have won the war in Lagos, though we still have one patient receiving attention there but we are still not out of the woods yet. So, Nigerians should remain calm, as we are adequately prepared to contain the spread of the scourge,” he said.
Alhassan disclosed that over 400 people were currently under strict surveillance in the country. The minister stated that adequate preparations had been made in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior to ensure proper checks of travellers at the border posts in the country.
He pointed out that vehicles and motorcycles had been mobilised to the borders. He acknowledged that the greatest challenge was getting the understanding of the public, especially those under quarantine.
“As of now, we want those under quarantine that were asked to remain indoors to cooperate and should remain calm because we are determined to contain the disease,” he added
According to former president Obasanjo, “it is devilish enough that Patrick Sawyer had to spread this, and indeed spread it to Nigeria in connivance with some authorities in his country, because they knew he had it before he came to Nigeria.
He added: “The EVD has started to take its toll on the country and the West African sub region. The toll is not only on the number of those that are ill or dead but on the economies of communities, countries, region and sub-region.”
Obasanjo spoke in an event organised by the publisher of Inside Watch Africa magazine, Mr. Oluwaseyi Adegoke-Adeyemo, at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta yesterday.
He, however, chided Liberian officials who connived with the late Sawyer, who brought the deadly EVD to Nigeria, saying the singular misadventure has started to take its toll on the manpower and the economy of not only Nigeria but the West Africa sub-region.
Obasanjo said he had spoken with some other African leaders and discussed how to contain the spread of the deadly virus within the sub-region.
He said he had spoken with the presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone to “give them words of encouragement and support” on the scourge of Ebola in their countries.
Speaking further, he noted that EVD was not only a regional or sub-regional threat but a global one, and called for a summit where a national policy on the disease would be formulated.
Obasanjo also advocated the need to encourage the world pharmaceutical companies to carry on research on the virus and come up with the needed vaccine to eliminate it.
He said, “Pharmaceutical companies in the country should be encouraged to carry out research on the EVD and come up with vaccines to treat the deadly disease.
“Also, we have to be aggressive in taking precautionary measures. When you see your neighbour or someone who has unique symptoms not just of ordinary cold or fever, take him to the doctor, whether it is symptomatic of Ebola or ordinary malaria.
“We should not wait till someone has got it incubated, just like Patrick Sawyer, who knew he had it and he deliberately spread it.”