In an interview with the former health minister of Nigeria Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu. He answers some health health issues around Nigeria.
He recalls some major steps the Nigerian administration at the time took to fighting and defeating Ebola in Nigeria.
As many recall, in July 2014,Ebola found its way into Nigeria after an infected Liberian Government Official named Patrick Sawyer arrived in Lagos.
Though he was prevented from further interacting with members of the public by officials of a Lagos based hospital, who diagnosed him, the disease still found its way to several parts of the country, killing at least eight people out of the 20 affected.
How did you receive the news on July 20, 2014 when it was announced that Ebola had found its way into Nigeria?
I had actually travelled to Melbourne, Australia, to represent President Goodluck Jonathan at the World AIDS/HIV conference at the time the announcement was made.
I had a text message from the then Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Prof Lasidi. The message said, “Honourable Minister, finally, Ebola has landed in Nigeria.”
It was a terrible news for me at the time because it was the least I was looking forward to hearing.
Were there times you lost sleep in the first few days after Ebola found its way into Nigeria?
Throughout the period, my average sleep time was three hours and I doubt if President Jonathan himself had as much sleep back then because there were times he would call me around 200am to get the latest update from me.
I lost sleep throughout that period not because I did not know what to do but because there was always something to do.
How quickly was a plan to tackle the disease drawn after the news hit the airwaves?
we had started preparing long before Ebola finally found its way into Nigeria.
With the way Patrick Sawyer, the index case, entered Nigeria at that time, do you think it could have been prevented if our borders had been more secure?
It was not necessarily a case of porous borders. From the evidence we had, there might have been a collusion in Monrovia, Liberia, to get the guy into Nigeria by all means because CCT footages from Monrovia Airport showed that Sawyer was already very ill at the time he was waiting to board the flight to Nigeria. He was already throwing up. I have copies of the footages.
His sister had died as a result of the virus at the time and he had very close contact with her. He knew he was in a critical situation. We gathered that he was heading to a church in Lagos for spiritual cure but we thank God he didn’t get to the place before he was discovered. If he had reached that church, it could have been a bigger disaster for us.
I believe there was a collusion in Monrovia to get him to Nigeria by all means because even when the flight had a stop-over at Lome, Togo, and he was throwing up, they could have removed him from the aircraft but he was allowed to remain and make his way into Nigeria
Which church was that?
By what we were told, I think it was Synagogue Church of All Nations headed by Pastor T.B. Joshua.
Do you think Sawyer did what he did on purpose?
It is difficult to say. He had a legitimate official reason for being in the country. But having spoken to different sources including his relatives, there were suggestions that he actually came to seek spiritual healing in Nigeria.
What do you think would have happened to Nigeria if Adadevoh had not stopped Sawyer from going into the society to interact with more people?
More people would have been exposed to the virus and this could have meant more work for us but we would have controlled it.
On October 20 of that year when the WHO certified Nigeria to be free of Ebola, did you celebrate the news in any special way?
I think God used the Ebola virus disease to lift me up as a person. God decided to use the opportunity to make, rather than mar me.
I thank God that under my watch, Nigeria was declared free of the disease. It was indeed a huge moment for me.