When, on Wednesday, news filtered in that a Liberian who travelled to Nigeria was being tested for ebola, Nigerians and the whole world, held their breath and hoped the test would come up negative.
That test however came back positive and the Liberian died on Thursday in Lagos. Cause of death: Ebola. The new worry and hope is that no further cases are announced.
Nigeria’s ministry of health is seeking to reassure the public. The Minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu disclosed that the deceased Ebola patient was taken straight from the airport into quarantine and that the ministry is investigating anyone who may have come into contact with him.”We have already gotten in touch with all the passengers,” he said. “We are monitoring and investigating.”
Nigeria has also announced that all the ports of entry into the country, including airports, seaports and land borders, have been placed on red alert. Ministry of Health specialists have also been positioned in all entry points as well as active surveillance being stepped up.
However, all these measures by the authorities have not succeeded in palliating the fears of residents of Lagos and Nigerians as whole. Nigeria’s inadequate healthcare infrastructure and the fact that sustained international efforts have not curbed the spread and casualties of Ebola in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – where the patient who died in Lagos flew in from – has created a huge doubt in Nigerians with regards to the ability of Health Workers to prevent the spread of the virus.
Fears are further fuelled by ebola’s high human-to-human transmission rate given the extreme dense population of Lagos, fourth most populated city in the world with 21 million people. Lagos is also the largets city in Sub-Saharan Africa and the commercial hub of Africa’s largest economy- Nigeria.
As of July 20, the number of Ebola cases recorded in the months-long epidemic stood at 1,093, including more than 660 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation. Liberia has seen 127 fatalities.
Regardless of these grave fears, Nigerians deeply hope that ebola in Nigeria died with the Liberian carrier. Because if in the contrary the virus did spread, then both human and material fortunes of Africa’s population country could be damned.
Firstly, Lagos is the most cosmopolitan city in Nigeria with Nigerians from all over the country living in and transiting to and from the city. Lagos is also the major transit point into and out of the country- through air, land or sea. A spread in Lagos virtually means a spread through Nigeria. More importantly, Lagos is undisputedly the commercial heartbeat of Nigeria; both goods and services majorly flow from Lagos with much of the services industry centred or headquartered in Lagos and goods –most notably Petroleum products- dependent on Lagos ports to reach all parts of Nigeria. If ebola severely hits Lagos, it could bring Nigeria to its knees, humanitarianly and economically.
Nigerians aren’t the only ones desperately praying against an ebola epidemic in Lagos, the world is too. This is not saying that the international community is not deeply pained by the epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, they are.
However, given Nigeria’s position in Africa and the world –as the largest African Economy and as a major investment hub, especially in the oil and gas sector, businesses around the world would be deeply devastated should anything happen to Lagos- the major centre nay headquarter of investments.
If that thing is ebola, with its attendant pandemic, it may cause evacuations of the massive number of business expatriates in Lagos. Even those in other parts of Nigeria may pull out, given the huge fears it would create of a spread around the country; this would mean a shutdown of most foreign companies and businesses in Nigeria.
This means heaps of business and economic losses, for Nigeria yes, but also for the numerous foreign businesses and business interests in Nigeria given the country’s hugely important consumer market. Should such happen to Nigeria it could also probably spell doom for the sub-region and Africa as a whole, given Nigeria’s major position in the socio-economic partnerships across Africa.
The devastation that the deadly ebola virus could cause the world through Nigeria is best imagined. All efforts ought to be optimized to make sure ebola does not make any further headway in Lagos, Nigeria and in deed all parts of Africa and the world.
Thus, the international community and the Nigerian government must work even more to avoid and eliminate the prospect of ebola in Nigeria as well as stop its spread in the heavily affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The steps taken so far by Nigeria’s Ministry of Health as well as the World Health Organization are highly commendable. However, more needs to be done in the area of information as well as more checks on those who could have had the remotest of contacts with carriers to prevent any further spread.