Nigeria reaches the 42-day mark
WHO officially declares that Nigeria reached that 42-day mark and is now considered free of Ebola transmission.
This is a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained. The story of how Nigeria ended what many believed to be potentially the most explosive Ebola outbreak imaginable is worth telling in detail.
Such a story can help the many other developing countries that are deeply worried by the prospect of an imported Ebola case and eager to improve their preparedness plans. Many wealthy countries, with outstanding health systems, may have something to learn as well.
The complete story also illustrates how Nigeria has come so close to the successful interruption of wild poliovirus transmission from its vast and densely-populated territory.
As sometimes fortunately happens in public health, one success breeds others when lessons and best practices are collected and applied.
Earlier this year, WHO confirmed that Nigeria had eradicated guinea-worm disease – another spectacular success story. When the eradication initiative was launched, Nigeria was the epicentre of this disease, with more than 650 000 cases reported each year.
How a highly contagious virus was stopped dead in its tracks
Dr Rui Vaz and the WHO country team of epidemiologists, clinicians, logisticians and administrators have identified a number of specific lessons that may be useful for other countries facing their first imported Ebola case or preparing for one. They have also carefully documented a large number of “best practices” for containing an Ebola outbreak quickly.
The most critical factor is leadership and engagement from the head of state and the Minister of Health. Generous allocation of government funds and their quick disbursement helped as well. Partnership with the private sector was yet another asset that brought in substantial resources to help scale up control measures that would eventually stop the Ebola virus dead in its tracks.
Health and government officials fully appreciated the importance of communication with the general public. They rallied communities to support containment measures.
House-to-house information campaigns and messages on local radio stations, in local dialects, were used to explain the level of risk, effective personal preventive measures and the actions being taken for control. On his part, the President reassured the country’s vast and diversified population through appearances on nationally televised newscasts.
The full range of media opportunities was exploited – from social media to televised facts about the disease delivered by well-known “Nollywood” movie stars.
Vigilance remains high
Nigerian government and health officials, including staff in the WHO country office, are well aware that the country will remain vulnerable to another imported case as long as intense transmission continues in other parts of West Africa.
The surveillance system remains on guard, at a level of high alert. Moreover, the country’s success, including its low fatality rate, has created another problem that calls for a high level of alert.
Many desperate people in heavily affected countries believe that Nigeria must have some especially good – maybe even “magical” – treatments to offer.
WHO’s Dr Vaz and others see a real risk that patients and their families from elsewhere will come to Nigeria in their quest for first-rate, live-saving care.
Based on the experience gained from the response in the 2 affected States, the national preparedness and response plan has also been revised and refined.
This strengthened response plan further boosts confidence that Nigeria’s well-oiled machinery has a good chance of working miracles again should another traveller – by land, air or sea – carry the Ebola virus across its borders again.