The Federal Government on Wednesday warned Nigerians not to be carried away with the news that the country now has only one established case of the Ebola Virus Disease, saying “we are still at risk.”
It also said despite the suspension of the strike embarked upon by the Nigerian Medical Association, the recent suspension of residency programmes in hospitals was still in force.
Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said this while fielding questions from State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja on Wednesday.
Chukwu advised Nigerians to avoid moving from panic to euphoria since that could constitute an obstacle as the nation tackles the virus.
He explained that while the country could be said to have been successful in containing the disease, it would be wrong to say the disease had been eliminated.
The minister pointed out that the fact that all the primary and secondary contacts of the index case, Patrick Sawyer, had been traced, did not stop any other infected person from other parts of the country from bringing the virus again.
He added that though the country currently had an established case it was managing, it was not unlikely that the patient had her own contacts.
Chukwu said, “As we speak, there is a case we are still managing. And even that case we are still managing must also have had her own third degree contacts; many of whom are part of this number of people that are under surveillance.
“So, until we give a clean bill of health to every contact, we cannot even say we have eliminated the disease.
“We will only stop being at risk when the very last case of EVD under this current epidemic has gone.
“There is still a chance one of the people under surveillance may fall sick and test positive
“We have done well on containment but by no means have we eliminated the problem in Nigeria.”
He added that as long as there was still a case of Ebola in the world and people were allowed to travel, every country was at risk.
The minister said by the definition of the World Health Organisation, one case constitutes an epidemic for Ebola and Lassa Fever because they are deadly.
Minister on schools resumption
The minister said the Federal Government decided to postpone the resumption of private and public primary and secondary schools because it did not want to “take any chance.”
“We don’t want to take any chance. What will guide when schools will reopen will be when we issue advice to the other levels of government and the President(Dr. Goodluck Jonathan) that we think we have dealt with all the contacts,” he said.
He however ruled out the possibility of banning other forms of mass gathering, saying there is no reason to panic.
He said at the moment, Ebola could not be said to be the greatest killer of Nigerians since it has claimed only five persons in about a month.
During the same period, he said diseases such as Lassa Fever, Malaria as well as terrorism and auto crashes had separately claimed greater number of people.
He however warned that even when all contacts are discharged, Nigerians should remain vigilant.
No closure of borders
Chukwu also ruled out the possibility of Nigeria closing its borders because of the disease.
He explained that WHO protocol also discourages closure of borders for that reason.
“There is no reason to close our borders for now because we are not panicking. WHO protocol does not even allow it. We have not seen any reason yet to close our borders. If there is reason, we will do so,” he said.
The minister explained that the N1.9bn intervention fund approved by the President for the containment of Ebola was not meant to be shared by states like the monthly federal allocation.
He identified some of the factors that contributed to the recovery of those discharged from the Lagos isolation centre to the dose of the virus in their system, their body immunity, early presentation and supportive treatment.
Fate of resident doctors
The minister said when the Federal Government decided to suspend residency training programme, it was just normal that it could not put trainees on a programme that was no longer in existence.
He said in disengaging the resident doctors, the government took into consideration the agreement between them and their employers and by extension the government.
Chukwu said one of the provisions of the agreement was that either party can pull out of the arrangement by giving one month notice or pay one month salary in lieu of notice.
Chukwu said that was why the government had given a directive that the resident doctors be paid their August salary.
He also said he had not received any formal letter from the NMA suspending the association’s industrial action, hence the position of government on residency programme still remained the same.
The minister explained that it was traditional that the NMA notified him of the commencement and suspension of the strike formally.
Chukwu said, “What I have so far received is a text message from the NMA president that they have called off the strike.
“I called him yesterday (Tuesday) on the need to send a formal notice and he promised to do that today (Wednesday).
“It is when I get the letter, that I can advise the President on what next to do. As of now, residency programme remains suspended.”