When Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer collapsed at Lagos airport, he brought Ebola into a potentially ideal place for the deadly virus to spread – a vast, dirty, overcrowded city where tracing carriers and their contacts is a major problem.
Sawyer’s arrival last month from Liberia – which, along with Sierra Leone and Guinea, lies at the centre of an outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people – caught authorities in the Nigerian commercial capital unprepared.
By the time they realized where he was from or what illness he had, Sawyer had had contact with dozens of people. Lagos has now had 10 cases of Ebola. Health experts – who are trying to overcome superstition and public ignorance about Ebola as well as the disease itself – say there is now only a short opportunity to find and lock down other infected people before the outbreak in the city of 21 million gets out of hand.
EBOLA: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
- What is the Ebola virus? A simple primer
- What is ZMapp? A primer on the controversial Ebola treatment
- Where is the virus? View a distribution map of Ebola cases, 1976-2014
- Canada’s response: Read the Public Health Agency of Canada’s travel advisory
LAGOS: A ‘PERFECT ENVIRONMENT FOR VIRUS’
“Lagos is big, it’s crowded. It would make in many ways a perfect environment for the virus to spread,” said Nigerian epidemiologist Chikwe Ihekweazu, who runs website Nigeria Health Watch and worked on Ebola in South Sudan a decade ago. “In the heart of Lagos, people live on top of each other, sharing bedrooms and toilets. In densely populated communities infection control becomes almost impossible to do well.”
As Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria has a better health system than the other west African countries, which are among the poorest in the world, and Ebola doesn’t spread through the air or water supply as with many other epidemic diseases. In many ways, Africa’s top oil producer is in a better position than the other three affected countries. According to consultancy DaMina Advisors, it has one doctor per 2,879 people – compared with 1 per 86,275 in Liberia. While public doctors are striking over pay, Nigeria has the money to mobilize enough health workers for now.
Yet because Lagos is a city of migrants, Lagos is a potential springboard for Ebola to spread across Nigeria. “There’s a lot of mobility within the country. If infected people end up taking taxis to their villages, then we’re in trouble,” said Ihekweazu.
GENEVA: WHO REPORTS LATEST NUMBERS
The World Health Organization on Wednesday reported 128 new Ebola cases and 56 deaths in West Africa in the two days to Aug. 11, raising the death toll from the worst ever outbreak of the disease to 1,069.
Since the outbreak was identified in March, there have been a total of 1,975 confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola cases in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the United Nations health agency said in a statement.
LIBERIA: EXPERIMENTAL DRUG ARRIVES
A consignment of experimental Ebola drugs arrived by plane in Liberia on Wednesday to treat two doctors suffering from the virus.
The drug, ZMapp, arrived in white boxes on a commercial flight, a Reuters witness said. It will be taken to the John F. Kennedy Memorial hospital in the capital and administered to doctors Zukunis Ireland and Abraham Borbor, government officials said.
SIERRA LEONE: TOP DOCTOR DIES FROM VIRUS
An official in Sierra Leone says another of the country’s leading physicians has died from Ebola.
Sidie Yayah Tunis, director of communications for the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, announced that Modupeh Cole died Wednesday. The U.S.-trained Cole was one of the lead doctors working in the Ebola isolation ward in Connaught Hospital in Freetown, the capital.
Cole’s death comes on the heels of that of another physician who was leading Sierra Leone’s fight against Ebola, Sheik Humarr Khan.
Officials at the World Health Organization told Associated Press Wednesday that they had considered giving Khan the untested ZMapp treatment, but decided against it because “his condition had deteriorated too much to be transported safely.” The drug was later given to three Westerners.
GUINEA-BISSAU: BORDER WITH GUINEA CLOSED
Guinea-Bissau has decided to close its frontier with eastern neighbor Guinea in a bid to prevent the entry of the deadly Ebola virus, Prime Minister Domingos Simoes Pereira said.
“Guinea-Bissau has decided to close its border with Guinea-Conakry from Aug. 12 given the threat of the Ebola virus,” Pereira told a news conference late on Tuesday.
The order will likely mean the closure of official road border points, but it will be difficult to police the long and porous frontier in rural areas away from formal highways.
GERMANY: CITIZENS URGED TO LEAVE INFECTED COUNTRIES
The German government is calling on its citizens to leave the west African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia because of the Ebola epidemic.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said Wednesday that this appeal did not apply to urgently needed medical workers or to diplomatic staff.
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