A virologist and World Health Organisation (WHO) consultant, Professor Oyewale Tomori has said Nigeria is not prepared for another Ebola outbreak, contrary to Federal Government’s assurances that the country was better prepared for another outbreak than in 2014.Tomori, a former Vice-Chancellor of Redeemers University and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on Polio Eradication in Nigeria, told The Guardian that the country was lucky in 2014, adding that claims of preparedness by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) should be taken with a pinch of salt.His words: In spite of government assurances, I remain unconvinced that we are prepared for another Ebola outbreak. First time, it was a combination of luck as the index case arrived already sick and admitted to a private hospital, with public health facilities shut as a result of doctors’ strike.
“It also followed a national morbid fear of Ebola that roused and compelled government commitment and massive funding, After the country was declared free, structures that aided our ability to contain the outbreak were dismantled. “Today, perhaps only the Federal and Lagos State governments are rebuilding infrastructure for preparedness against disease outbreaks. Nigeria has assessed its ability to find, stop and prevent health threats and identified significant gaps.”He said in the self-assessment done under Joint Evaluation Exercise (JEE) Nigeria had Finding and Verifying Outbreaks (51 per cent); Stopping Outbreaks (31 per cent), Preventing Outbreaks (39 per cent) and Protecting from Other Health Threats (37 per cent) with a total score of 39 per cent.
“This means we are not ready to find, stop and prevent epidemics,” he added. Tomori, however, said the country was showing commitment to improving epidemic preparedness, such as enacting then bill establishing the NCDC and great efforts by NCDC to address identified gaps still remain especially at state and council levels in biosafety and biosecurity, preparedness, medical countermeasures/personnel deployment, emergency response operations, laboratory system and financing, among others. He, however, warned that the occurrence of any disease outbreak could cause numerous deaths and perhaps spread to neighboring countries, examples yellow fever, Lassa fever and meningitis.
But Director General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, disagreed, saying: “Compared to July 2014, we are better prepared for an Ebola outbreak. You know about outbreak preparedness, you don’t actually prepare for Ebola outbreak. You prepare for outbreaks that happen commonly and through the response to common incidents you prepare for the unusual.
“In July 2014 we didn’t have a National Reference Laboratory (NRL) in Nigeria, We had a few laboratories in specific universities that have developed their capacities like the Redeemer’s University and the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), but we didn’t have a NRL.
“But now we have a full fledged NRL at Jabi in Abuja where we have the capacity to do diagnoses of most causes of epidemic diseases both bacterial and viral causes. So, our capability of making that diagnoses in Nigeria has increased exponentially. We have a mobile laboratory that we can deploy to any part of the country if needed.”
He added that the final part was about the response, saying that in the 2014 outbreak, Nigeria had to rely on two groups of people namely: Graduates of the Nigeria Field Epidemiology Training Programme (NFETP) and workers on polio response at the time through the Polio Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) who were then repurposed for Ebola.
“Now we have built on all of those and we have teams in NCDC that are used to responding. We have a new EOC and we are supporting every state in Nigeria to develop one. We have done that in 16 states. We have people that are now used to responding all the time,” he stated.
“We carried out in 2017 a Joint External Evaluation of International Health Regulations Core Capacities of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is an evaluation where peers from different countries go through all areas preparedness and there are 19 areas from legislation to coordination, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), zoonotic diseases and surveillance, among others.
Author: Chukwuma Muanya