Ebola – Remembering guinea worm epidemic

When Ebola case was first reported in February from Guinea, my heart sank not because of the deadly virus alone but the fact that my people don’t take anything seriously until it gets out of hand. We are always in denial of just about anything, Boko Haram is a good example.

Our international airports now check incoming passengers from infected countries upon arrival for high temperature. I would include all the entry points both land and sea.

Ghana bans all flights from Nigeria. Nigeria NCCA denies the claim. Presently everyone seem to be aware of the danger and how serious Ebola virus is.

In Nigeria to be able to deal with any issue effectively, it needs to be tailored to the locals lifestyle.

– In Osun State for example, there are lots of bats flying about. At OAU campus as I write hundreds of them are on trees getting ready to fly out of town as the night draws near, they will be back in the morning. Can Osun government specifically include this in their announcement and encourage people not to eat bats.

– People in Ondo eats specific type of monkeys and this is one of the game meat WHO advised to avoid due to their ability to migrate quickly across borders, can their state government include this in their warnings.

– Lagos state government met with Prophet TB Joshua on Sunday regarding his church annual conference that include West African Ebola infested countries. TB Joshua promised to cooperate with the government and said he will suspend his healing program for now and visit the affected countries rather than them coming to the conference. This sound reasonable coming from the prophet however, the event started yesterday and the LASG only visited him the same day after the letter written to the prophet hit the brick wall. What do we do about the church members who are already in Lagos from the affected countries?

– Rev Adeboye of Redeemed Christian Church of God starts his yearly Holy Ghost conference today August 4th for a week. This is another big event that is going ahead involving thousands of people from within and outside the country. Where do we go from here?

Both of these pastors insisted they’ll continue with their pre arranged church programs despite WHO saying Ebola is spreading very fast. Church and state, uhm? Who is responsible for protection the people? Who calls the shot?

While it is true that historically Nigeria has not been affected with Ebola since it was first discovered in 1976, movement across borders has never been this high. Nigerians move across the borders now more than anytime in history especially by traders. Nigeria has the most complicated tariff law than any country you could imagine. International companies bring their goods meant for Nigerians to neighbouring countries to avoid the high tarrifs so Nigerians cross the borders to bring these goods home, these includes poultry, rice, clothing etc. How do you protect the traders whose livelihood depend on this? And how do you make sure the traders don’s trade more than goofs among neighbouring countries?

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news but I do know that many cases in Nigeria get underreported especially when it comes to the cause of death of a neighbour or a loved ones. And also in remote villages, cases are always beyond hope before it gets reported.

Presently, radios and television stations have been consistent in informing the public of the Ebola virus and also that people should stay away from eating certain bush meat such as monkeys, grass cutters and bats – these are abundant in SW for example. I think the government should take it further buy visiting the roadside traders of roasted meat to be sure these meat are not being sold to the public.

Chatting with a friend of mine who lives in Ibadan was an eye opener to how ignorant we are. We exchanged ideas on what we both heard about the virus, we both agree that it is encouraging that churches/mosques also are informing their congregations about the disease. Then Tolu said to me “but they said it’s only people in the North that are at high risk.” I nearly choked on my water because that was the most ridiculous speculation I have heard till date. I reminded Tolu the first recorded was of a Liberian who died in Lagos after five whole days at the hospital so definitely this is not the time to make condescending tribal remarks.

Tolu’s remarks reminded me of the terrible epidemic of guinea worm in my village in the 80s. Every household had the disease. One man who particularly must have ‘sinned’ against the gods had his whole body covered including his manhood. People genuinely thought witches was on his case but the truth was inevitable because the water that the whole village drank from was like a pond, it overflows during raining season, so in order to fetch water, one has to enter the pond and since guinea worm mostly affect feet/legs then it’s easier to escape in to the water.

My father was not spared, my oldest sister haven’t visited the village over the weekend came back to town infected. She was out of school for a couple of weeks because of the unsightly swell on her right foot. I know that Nigeria has been certified guinea worm free earlier on in the year by the World Health Organisation but I wonder how realistic that was given most villages still do not have boreholes or simple well to drink from. My village for example today still drink from the same guinea worm infected stream, the water is fine now. I don’t recall anyone died from this epidemic, just lots of torture. The elders knew all along that guinea worms spread faster through the village drinking water, yet the whole village was affected before they did something about it.

Now, ebola virus is different, it kills if undectected early enough. I do hope that government would use local knowledge to advice  people appropriately and really, it is the job for everyone.