After 20 reported cases and eight deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Nigeria Ebola-free on Monday, reported the Associated Press. !
“This is a spectacular success story,” Rui Gama Vaz, a WHO representative, said during a news conference.
“It shows that Ebola can be contained but we must be clear that we have only won a battle. The war will only end when West Africa is also declared free of Ebola.”
The first case of Ebola was imported to Nigeria when Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American diplomat, collapsed in a Lagos airport in July. There have been no new cases of the disease in Nigeria in 42 days, which is the minimum length of time required to declare an “official” end to an outbreak (twice the 21-day incubation period for the virus).
“Nigeria was not really prepared for the outbreak, but the swift response from the federal government, state governments (and) international organisations … was essential,” said Samuel Matoka, Ebola operations manager in Nigeria for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Nigeria’s ‘Best Practices’
Government and health officials hope that the success in Nigeria can be a blueprint for other countries in how to combat Ebola. The WHO outlines what was done to stop the spread of Ebola in Nigera:
Strong leadership and resources
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.
Another key asset was the country’s first-rate virology laboratory affiliated with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. That laboratory was staffed and equipped to quickly and reliably diagnose a case of Ebola virus disease, which ensured that containment measures could begin with the shortest possible delay.
High-quality contact tracing
In addition, high-quality contact tracing by experienced epidemiologists expedited the early detection of cases and their rapid movement to an isolation ward, thereby greatly diminishing opportunities for further transmission.
Public education and community engagement
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.
Use of proven measures from previous outbreaks
When the first Ebola case was confirmed in July, health officials immediately repurposed polio technologies and infrastructures to conduct Ebola case-finding and contact-tracing.
The use of cutting-edge technologies, developed with guidance from the WHO polio programme, put GPS systems to work as support for real-time contact tracing and daily mapping of links between identified chains of transmission.
Margaret Chan, WHO Director, is optimistic other affected areas can replicate Nigeria’s methods. “If a country like Nigeria, hampered by serious security problems, can do this … any country in the world experiencing an imported case can hold onward transmission to just a handful of cases.”
In related news, WHO announced that Senegal was ebola-free last week.