Ebola. A bit of perspective.

I am writing with the TV on.  The latest CNN report is talking about U.S. President Obama’s pledge to send three-thousand troops to help fight the “deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa.” 

sign

I am writing in a hotel room in Lagos, Nigeria. In West Africa.  As a veteran journalist, I know there is a tendency for the media to oversimplify.  In spite of our 24-hour-news-cycle, there is somehow not enough time to provide deep context or broader perspective on a given story.  Instead, what we get are dramatic  headlines  designed to captivate viewers  – and the notion of a virus like Ebola is certainly one that lends itself to fear.

Needless to say, I have friends who urge me in emails and on Facebook to “be safe.”  “Be careful.”

I am.

A former CNN colleague and current Facebook friend of mine now works for the World Health Organization (WHO).  She assured me that since Ebola is NOT an airborne virus, as long as I am not cleaning up the vomit or diarrhea of an infected person or touching an infected corpse, I will be fine.   I can promise you I will not be doing either.

You are right, however, that this illness is a very serious thing. As the news continues to say, this is the deadliest Ebola outbreak in recorded history. Liberia is particularly struggling.

Nigeria has also reported cases.  But here is the perspective I promised in my title:

According to the World Bank, there are 245 million people in the 15 countries that make up the Economic Community of West Africa .  A whopping 174 million of them live here in Nigeria.

map

The Ebola outbreak –  from WHO recent figures  – looks like this:

Guinea – 771 cases, 494 deaths

Liberia – 1698 cases, 871 deaths

Nigeria – 21 cases, 7 deaths

Senegal – 1 case, no deaths

Sierra Leone – 1216 cases, 476 deaths

That’s some 3,707 cases out of 245 million people.  

(The Democratic Republic of Congo last week reported 62 cases and 35 deaths. But they’re not a part of West Africa geographically. )

So, here in Lagos, a bustling mega-city of around 21 million, people continue to work, play and live pretty normally.

Commendably, they are also taking new precautions against the spread of the virus.  When I landed late Sunday, informational FAQ posters were everywhere.

ebola
A sample of the posters at the Lagos airport.

Immediately after disembarking the airplane, each of us passengers lined up to have a doctor shine us with a temperature-taking laser.  (You may recall, Ebola first arrived here after an infected Liberian diplomat flew from Monrovia to Lagos and collapsed in the airport.)  In addition, hand sanitizer dispensers have been added to every building lobby I enter.

The line of passengers getting temperatures taken at the airport.
The line of passengers getting temperatures taken at the airport.

Today, as reported in the Nigerian Bulletin,  President Goodluck Jonathan said there are no more active cases in Nigeria.  Yes, seven people did die, but the remaining others have recovered. He proclaimed, “ The virus is under control.”

I met up with a longtime friend last night.  John Walker and I used to work together at WTTG Fox News in Washington, DC.  Now, he’s with the Voice of America and here to train journalists at Channels TV.  I’m here working with other professional groups.  Imagine us meeting again after all this time in Lagos!

Longtime DC friends reunite in Lagos!
Longtime DC friends reunite in Lagos!

We laughed and caught up at the popular local restaurant Yellow Chilli.  The place was filled with other patrons – who watched the football match on TV and enjoyed themselves.

Before entering, each of us had had our temperatures laser-checked by the hostess.

It’s good to be careful.

Till, next time, take good care, everyone!

Copyright Gina London 2014. All Rights Reserved. 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Ebola. A bit of perspective.

  1. Good,it is wonderful to know that Nigeria is taking considerate measures to check the “point of Entry”.

    What about our “local borders”….,Road,Sea….train….

    I suppose it will be difficult for places like “seme border” where you really don’t have to get out of the Car to cross over.

    I hope “that” point of Entry is being checked too!

    Also…..do you think temperature checking should be THE vital activity at our control point? Ebola does have it incubation period in the human body and might not manifest until several days after contact.

    Just thinking,checking the TEMP of someone who has just come into contact with the vomit,diarrhea,corpse or “semen” of an infected person just mere hours before boarding the plane MIGHT not help.

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    1. Hi Dee,
      Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments. You are right, of course, checking for an elevated temperature is not a fail-safe – especially as the virus can lie dormant for 21 days. I’m no doctor but it does make you wonder what extreme levels of precaution would be necessary to COMPLETELY isolate and protect a country. I can tell you personally, that I am certainly washing my hands often and NOT coming near anyone’s bodily fluids! Take good care, g

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  2. According to the Nigeria Port Authority, at the Illela Border in Sakato State 42 people were stopped for refusing medical assessment and prevented from entering the country from Niger last week. 15 Nigerians at land borders were refused permission to travel for refusing medical assessment and 27 Nigerians were refused entry back into the country for the same reason. The land borders are being monitored as best they can be, given the lack of vehicles, but Nigeria doesn’t share a land border with any of the nations most affected by ebola. Ebola is only infectious when the person is symptomatic and , to put it bluntly, the disease kills people so quickly it is doubtful a sufferer could make it to Nigeria by land before being overcome by the illness. If it does spread around the world, it will be by aircraft. If ebola did take hold in the general population in Lagos, it would be impossible to contain, given the lack of basic hygiene facilities for most. Nigeria remains one only three countries in the world that still has polio as an endemic disease, so the world-wide alarm over ebola once it reached Lagos- a very international city- was understandable. The health system is already under tremendous strain and the doctors are frequently on strike. As for the risk of catching ebola as an ex-pat- it’s very unlikely. I did notice, however, that the airport was not decontaminated like the other buildings that housed ebola contacts.

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    1. Very thorough additional information! Thank you so much for taking time to write. I just wrapped up a week of travel around the central and south part of the nation – and the casual use of the laser thermometers made me wonder what it would really take to contain and monitor for this illness.

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      1. I asked what they would do if I had a fever and they said they would, “Give advice”. I had my temperature taken several times a day, even going into my building. It was a bit farcical but demanded by the people who work for Shell who also live in my building. We work for a Nigeria/British company and are the only expat employees so we mainly socialise with Nigerians. We pick up a lot more information that way. I dont think we could deal with a serious outbreak here, given the lack of basic hygiene facilities in most of the city.

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  3. Unfortunately, I think you are probably right if there were to be a larger outbreak. Already the newspapers here are writing how concerned they are that the current stepped-up hygiene measures will begin decreasing now that Nigeria has been declared “contained.” Standards are simply not ingrained. For instance, at the “middle class” church buildings in Port Harcourt, Abuja, and Enugu, where I led training seminars, not one ladies room had toilet paper, not to mention soap. One did not even have running water – and yet, there was a poster on the door proclaiming, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” My thought is that many have gotten so used to lowered standards, they can’t imagine demanding over the long-term that they be raised from now on. Yet, they must be.

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