LAGOS - While the Ebola virus continues to take a heavy toll in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, Nigeria is receiving international praise for its swift control of the disease.
There have been no new cases of the virus in the country since the end of August. Two months after Nigeria reported its first case of Ebola, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared his country free of the deadly disease.
“We have been able to contain the Ebola Virus Disease and can confidently say that Nigeria is today Ebola-free,” he said.
Medical experts from the U.S. and around the world are studying the success of the Nigerian response to see what they can learn.
A number of factors led to that success, said Nancy Knight who is with the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is working with the Nigerian Emergency Operations Center in Lagos.
“Nigeria’s response, in terms of the difference from other countries, had to do with the speed at which they began their response, by identifying the imported case and utilizing an incident management system,” she said.
On July 20, a Liberian-American en route from Monrovia collapsed inside the international airport in Lagos. Three days later, Nigeria’s first or “index case” of Ebola was confirmed.
Dr. Faisal Shuaib, Incident Manager at the Nigerian Emergency Operations Center, said Nigeria was prepared.
“Even ahead of the detection of a case, we already had capacity building going on in states,” he said. “We already had training and pre-positioning of supplies.”
Health experts say the spread of Ebola to Lagos, a densely populated city of 18 million, was a potential catastrophe.
Nigerian officials quickly sent out investigators to identify and isolate all contacts with the index case. The list of potential exposures grew to more than 800.
“One thing that could easily have led to a worse scenario was if the contacts of the case were in the communities and they were spreading the disease,” said Shuaib. “But this was not the case in Nigeria because we followed up the contacts as aggressively as possible.”
Fever is one of the first symptoms of Ebola. And at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, travelers must fill out health forms declaring any contact with Ebola victims, and have their temperature taken.
“For passengers who have symptoms suggestive of Ebola, or have a temperature above 38 degrees Celsius, they don’t get to check in," said Dr. Alex-Ocoh, Director of Port Health in Lagos.
Community outreach is another critical part of incident management. Volunteers have visited 26,000 households, educating the public about how the virus is spread.
“Being African, some people think Ebola is kind of a curse, and some people believe Ebola to be a spiritual infection,” said Samson Omotayo, one of the outreach workers. “But we are able to make them know that this thing is real.”
Nigerian officials say they will continue screening passengers at ports of entry as long as Ebola is present in neighboring countries, where there is currently no end in sight to the crisis.