Furore over rumour of fresh Ebola in Nigeria

God forbid. Ebola will not return to Nigeria! It is not our portion; Ebola cannot come back to Nigeria! God who saved us from the satanic disease called Ebola has finished his work. These were some of the exclamations by avid social media fans in Lagos who were reacting to the purported rumour of Ebola’s return to Nigeria last weekend. 

The rumour, which began trending on the social media late on the night of Friday, April 10, caused an unusual stir among a wide section of the populace even as some residents threatened to leave the city. Reacting to the rumour, Edohasin Imako, a trader, said in smattering pidgin: “If Ebola don come back, I go dey do more business for Benin Republic than Nigeria, I no fit risk am ooh! Princewill Adoga, a public servant said: “Ebola again! That bad disease it is not easy to control; it was God that helped Nigeria last year. Let it just be ordinary rumour ooh! I don’t know where to run to with my children, if there is truth in the rumour.” It was learnt that a purported message titled, ‘Ebola Returns to Nigeria after Killing three and infecting 12,” continued to circulate on Facebook, WatsApp and Twitter, into Saturday, the day of the gubernatorial and state Houses of Assembly elections held nationwide. 

Not even the anxious moments following the elections could prevent some group discussions over the rumours of fresh emergence of Ebola. According to the report, one of the alleged victims, Mr. George Lawal, showed major signs of the disease which caused neighbours to raise alarm. “He was immediately taken to an undisclosed hospital in Lagos where he later died. Doctors confirmed he was struck with the Ebola flu. They are believed to have made major contacts with at least 12 people who are on the large. Please, share the news and report any suspected victim to nearby authorities,” the message stated. But, dispelling the rumour on Tuesday, the Lagos State Government asked residents to disregard the speculation that the virus was reported at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and go about their legitimate businesses, while taking the necessary preventive measures. 

The state’s Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, debunked the report of fresh Ebola case at a news conference he addressed alongside his information counterpart, Mr. Aderemi Ibirogba and that of Special Duties, Dr. Wale Ahmed, among others. He said contrary to messages being circulated on social media, there is no fresh case of Ebola outbreak in Lagos. Dr. Idris said: “Recently, there was a rumour in the social media on the return of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) to Nigeria, killing three and infecting 12 other persons. “According to the rumour, the deceased were returnees from Liberia and one of them was reportedly taken to an undisclosed hospital in Lagos.” 

The Lagos State Ministry of Health’s boss said findings revealed that the EVD rumour was generated from two different websites, explaining that the government swung into action to verify the source, quality and viability of the rumour, its author as well as embarked on social media campaign to debunk the news on its facebook site. Idris added that the second rumour concerning two Chinese visitors from Sierra Leone was posted on twitter @iChexo on 12 April, claiming that the two Chinese died of EVD at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) same day, saying that investigation carried out at LUTH revealed that the rumour was unfounded. He said: “Also, it was rumoured on twitter that two Chinese visitors from Sierra Leone have also died of EVD at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH). 

“However, our findings revealed that these reports were completely untrue and that no new Ebola case has been confirmed in any facility in the state or in the country.” “We believe that the author of these materials simply wanted to generate traffic to their websites which would appear to have been successfully achieved. We wish to assure you that health workers have continued to maintain a high index of suspicion of EVD and other Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers. “The operations and surveillance activities of the Ebola Emergency Operations Centre (EEOC), have continued despite the containment of the EVD and the declaration of Nigeria as Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2014,” he added. He stated that activities of the EEOC were still ongoing, such as screening of passengers at the point of entry, enhanced surveillance for EVD in all councils in the state, social mobilisation and communication activities at the community and council levels. 

Also, he added that there are trainings on enhanced EVD surveillance for Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers (DSNOs) ward local persons and community informants, among others. Idris restated that those at the highest risk include health workers, families and friends of infected persons in the course of feeding, holding and caring for them. “Members of the public are hereby enjoined to disregard the EVD rumour and go about their lawful businesses while taking preventive measures by observing good environmental and personal hygiene, especially regular hand washing and proper waste disposal. “Ensure thorough washing of fruits and other edible items before eating. 

Report any suspected case of Ebola or any known travellers from Ebola- affected countries with history of persistent fever by calling the help line: 080 EBOLA HELP (0800-32652-4357),” he stated. Idris said the state government would continue to collaborate with the Federal Government on border surveillance to check cross-border infections. The commissioner said government would also intensify campaigns against the EVD to keep residents safe. He said the Ebola Treatment Unit at the Mainland Hospital had been placed on alert to respond to the need for isolation of any new case. Idris urged residents to maintain good personal hygiene and clean environment to eliminate risks of infection. The commissioner urged residents and health professionals to report any suspicious case of the virus for speedy intervention. He said if people with symptoms like vomiting, bleeding from the ears and eyes, headache were responded to early, they could be saved from the resultant death. 

Also, the management of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi- Araba, had earlier on Monday, refuted the claims about the death of two Chinese nationals with Ebola in the hospital. Speaking for LUTH, Prof. Chris Bode, the acting Chief Medical Director of the hospital, at a news conference in Lagos, urged Nigerians to disregard what he called ‘the mischievous rumour’ as no such incident happened in the hospital. Similarly, a health official and Ebola expert, Dr. Lawal Bakare, described the message as malicious and a figment of the imagination of the originator. Bakare, who is Founder and spokesperson for “Ebola Alert,” the official Ebola notification body for Nigeria, added that the anatomy of the message in itself is false.

In an Official @EbolaAlert notification, Bakare remarked: “We found a fast-spreading false rumour of Ebola cases in Nigeria. The rumour was initiated by an irresponsible blogger who lied that there are cases of Ebola in Nigeria just to generate traffic to her website. We will need your powerhouse to help us tackle this rumour.” He added: “In order to prevent what happened during the Ebola outbreak where people were told to drink salt water and some ended up losing their lives, we are doing this to let you know ahead of this rumour and to also tell your friends and neighbours.

The rumour is false; there is no known case of Ebola in Nigeria.” Nigeria was declared Ebola free on October 20, 2014. A total of 20 cases were recorded of which seven died and 11 recovered. A total of 25,226 cases have been recorded so far worldwide, out of which 10,587 died.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on April 18,  2015.


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