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How Nigeria shut down Ebola

A week away from being declared Ebola free, Nigeria is showing that with the right protocols and a sufficient amount of political will, Ebola can be stopped.

As of Tuesday, 4,447 people have died from Ebola, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the outbreak could swell to 10,000 new cases per week if drastic action is not taken in the next two months.

The number of infected patients continues to rise in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea; panic has set in in the US and Spain after healthcare workers contracted the virus, despite having access to superior medical resources, leaving  has medical professionals rethinking their infection control measures. So it has been encouraging though surprising that Nigeria has managed to prevent a large scale outbreak, after 20 people were infected in August and September.

Nigeria faces widespread corruption and is currently fighting Islamic insurgents, Boko Haram in the northern part of the country. William Wallis, writing for the Financial Times described Nigeria’s health services as “rickety” and “overstretched” and said that with a population of 170 million people, public health experts viewed Ebola in Nigeria as a potential “nightmare scenario”.

But despite these obstacles, the country has found a way to reign Ebola in.

“The Lagos state government, federal institutions, the private sector and global non-governmental organisations are all pulling in the same direction to defeat the disease,” Wallis writes.

The Nigerian outbreak began in July when Patrick Sawyer began to show visible signs of illness on a flight from Monrovia to Lagos. By the time authorities realised Sawyer had Ebola, over 800 people had been exposed to the virus. Medical staff at the clinic where Sawyer was treated worked alongside law enforcement and government to stop the virus spreading further.

Nigerian officials swiftly addressed both the logistical complexity of managing Ebola and the need for public knowledge. Private clinics used their training to detect Ebola patients, evacuate them from communities and hold them in isolation until they were cleared. Social media campaigns were also established to increase public awareness.

“They were very organised,”Dr Eilish Cleary, a public health expert working with the WHO to debrief Ebola survivors, told the Financial Times. “They put resources into tracking down every contact. In the US the wife [of the first Ebola victim in Texas] was left for five days with contaminated material. Here they disinfected houses immediately.”

In the end 20 people in Nigeria contracted Ebola; eight of them, including four hospital staff members, died.

Read more about Nigeria’s remarkable success in staving off further Ebola infections on the Financial Times.

– Featured image via Sylvain Cherkaoui/MSF

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