Ebola, Liberia, Patrick Sawyer And Nigeria: Matters Arising

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Ebola Virus
Patrick Sawyer

It is over two months now since the late Liberian-American, Mr. Patrick Sawyer, brought the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) to Nigeria. While we regret the loss of about eight of our country men and women to the virulent scourge, we thank Heavens that Nigerians have not died in droves from Ebola. Indeed, it is heart-warming to note that the country’s health system rose to the occasion and contained a potentially apocalyptic spread of the Ebola virus in the body-politic. This remarkable feat, we think, is another pointer to the greatness our country can attain, if only we all put our hands to the plough collectively as a People.

While the Ebola sceptre loomed large over us all in Nigeria, quite a number of cheery developments punctured the gloom, notably, news that a number of our stricken compatriots had survived the deadly infection, especially in Lagos State which, because Mr. Sawyer landed there with his body-load of Ebola virus, bore the brunt of the disease in Nigeria. Some of the Ebola survivors have since been discharged and are sharing their compelling survival stories with the nation and the World. One of them is Dr. Ada Igonoh, a medical doctor who attended to Mr. Sawyer at the First Consultant Medical Centre, Obalende Lagos, where the late Liberian-American was taken to for treatment as the yet undiagnosed Ebola ravaged his considerable frame, and would eventually kill him.

While Dr. Igonoh’s survival story has since gone viral in cyberspace, we find in this gripping, first-hand report of an epic battle for life, a number of issues worthy of the nation’s attention and action. In a fit of, some say un-presidential, indignation, President Goodluck Jonathan – through one of his aides – was widely reported to have called Mr. Sawyer “a terrorist” for flying to Nigeria knowing fully well that he had EVD. Though the President’s outburst might seem undiplomatic, reading Dr. Igonoh’s spellbinding accounts of events, we find it hard to dispute President Jonathan’s submission on who Mr. Sawyer was at heart. While mindful of the norm of not speaking ill of the dead, we state that only a terrorist sets out die with the aim of taking as many innocents souls along his chosen path of ignominious exit. Clearly, Mr. Sawyer knew he had contracted EVD but hid the fatal fact from his heroic carers atFirst Consultant Medical Centre. When in fact asked if he had any recent contact with an EVD patient in Liberia, Mr. Sawyer answered in the negative, and it was a lie!

The truth is that Mr. Sawyer’s sister had freshly died from EVD, he was in close proximity to her, his employers in Liberia had given him a leave of absence on account of this and indeed Mr. Sawyer had somehow “escaped from quarantine” in his country to fly to Lagos, Nigeria with the full knowledge that he was already afflicted with EVD.

Dr. Igonoh’s enthralling tale also puts a lie to Mr. Sawyer’s wife’s claim that her husband flew to Nigeria because he held our much-maligned health system in high esteem. If that were true, he would have immediately alerted our health authorities to his disease on arrival, and save us the avoidable tragic loss of our citizens, even while Nigerian health professionals would have treated his ailment in full knowledge of the EVD in him. And he, too, could have survived!

The depth of Mr. Sawyer’s “terrorist” disposition, weakness of character and gross irresponsibility was further laid bare by Dr. Igonoh’s revelations that the late Liberian-American was not “cooperating with the nurses”, he “refused additional treatment” and that while a pregnant nurse, Justina Ejelonu, was attending to him on her first day of work at First Consultants, Mr. Sawyer “yanked off his drip, letting his blood flow almost like a tap onto” Justina’s hands. Sadly, Justina Ejelonu got EVD from Mr. Sawyer, lost her pregnancy and died of Ebola. Clearly, Mr. Sawyer was a poor specimen of humanity and fully deserves the scorn poured on him by many, for knowingly unleashing the EVD terror on the Nigerian People.

It has since emerged that the Liberian authorities had Mr. Sawyer in quarantine. The explanation from that country that he “escaped” quarantine is simplistic, tenuous and unacceptable. What a way to repay a country that took your people in as refugees, committed men materials and funds to end your self-inflicted civil war! If the life of any Nigerians is sacred to those in charge of our affairs today, we demand that the Federal Government initiate a legal action against the Liberian government for crime against humanity via gross negligence and cross-border terrorism by means of deadly biological weapon at the appropriate international court, with a view to securing ample compensations for all Nigerian victims of EVD, dead or alive, and recouping the funds Nigeria has spent on containing Ebola. If the Federal Government will not take this needful step, we urge survivors of Ebola and relations of victims claimed by the disease in the country to initiate a class act suit against Liberia in a competent court of jurisdiction anywhere in the world. The Nigeria Bar Association, we urge, should come to the aide of these citizens in this regard.

Equally of note is the base decision of a Nigerian contact of Mr. Sawyer, Mr. Ibukun Koye, to flee the EVD surveillance in Lagos to Port Harcourt, Rivers State, apparently on the assurance of treatment from a medical practitioner, Dr. Iyke Enemuo. At the risk of sounding inhumane, we say Providence has since served Dr. Enemuo with a just dessert over his flagrant disregard for the general wellbeing of Rivers residents, the nation as a whole and for flouting the Hippocratic Oath he swore to guide his medical practice.

We note, also, that Mr. Koye survived Ebola and we congratulate him for the lucky escape. However, that should be little comfort to Mr. Koye, whose flight to Port Harcourt we find dishonourable, even if it was a desperate bid for survival by an afflicted man, because it endangered the lives of other citizens and had indeed caused avoidable sorrows to the families of those lost to EVD or traumatised by the disease in Rivers State. The individual’s personal survival cannot rank higher than the wellbeing of society at large. To be sure, Mr. Koye ranks in the same league as Mr. Sawyer – the roll call of Mankind’s infamy. He has indelible blood on his hands now, the blood of all who died of Ebola in Rivers State. If that sits well on your conscience, Mr. Koye, well, it only sums up who you are, more succinctly!

While the Nigerian health system – alongside the brave officials of the World Health Organisations and other global groups of caregivers – had indeed pulled off what amounts to miracles in handling the EVD in Nigeria, Dr. Igonoh’s narrative shows that we still have a long way to go. From her story, we note that our health facilities are still not up to par and that the quality of service to the ill leaves a lot to be desired.

We are concerned that the authorities did not recognise, promptly, that an outbreak of EVD in the West African Region posed considerable threats to our country, even if it were still thousands of flying miles away from our shores. We are also concerned that the Nigerian Government failed to take proactive measures to keep EVD out of Nigeria and prepare, well ahead, to deal with the disease if it somehow slipped in as EVD eventually did.

Lastly, we are appalled that medical personnel like Dr. Igonoh, Miss. Ejelonu, Mrs. Ukoh ( a ward maid at First Consultant who also died of Ebola) who all contracted EVD in the line of duty could be put in a quarantine facility that “looked like an abandoned building,” had “not been used for quite a while,” “smelled of faeces and vomit,” had “toilets that did not flush”, forcing an already weak, stooling, vomiting and traumatised patient “to fetch water in a bucket from the bathroom each time” she “used the toilet” under a sanitary condition that leaves “much to be desired,” so much so that when these bulwarks of society’s wellbeing were eventually moved from this terrible terrain to a new isolation centre, they felt like they “were leaving hell and going to heaven.”

This sad scenario needs not play out again anywhere in Nigeria, if we have left in us as a People any sense of shame and a modicum of decency and self-respect. The right and sensible step to take now is a holistic overhaul of the nation’s health system, in line with global best practices. Let’s do it Nigeria, let’s do it Nigerians!


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