Against the backdrop of another outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo, TARE Youdeowei speaks with one of the survivors of the disease in Nigeria, Dr. Akinniyi Fadipe. He was a doctor at the First Consultants Hospital, Lagos, when he became infected with Ebola
How best should Africa handle the re-emergence of the disease?
The re-emergence of Ebola should be handled with all seriousness and promptness if we don’t want a replay of what happened in 2014. Ebola virus is a viral hemorrhagic disease with a high degree of contagiousness and mortality. Prevention is the key for the countries yet to be affected, including Nigeria. When I say prevention, I mean screening at entry ports, prompt identification of index cases, high index of suspicion for Ebola in all cases of febrile illnesses, immediate isolation of suspected and confirmed cases, and finally execution of protocols for the treatment of confirmed cases.
Do you think Nigeria is taking enough preventive measures?
Currently I am not in Nigeria so I cannot confidently talk about what is in place as far as prevention is concerned. However, I can say there are four main strata of prevention we should be looking at: primordial, primary, secondary and tertiary. We are in the primordial phase of prevention in which our target is the general population.
We need to create awareness in mainstream and social media. This should involve what the disease entails, level of spread is important, symptoms and prevention. Also, temperature check of arrivals from the DRC while concerned agencies in each state of the country should prepare for Ebola isolation centres or safe means of transportation to the nearest centre at least. By now, training of staff ought to be done. We have people who acquired a lot of experience during the last outbreak. Anything short of this is ill-preparedness on our part.
What other things should be done to get it right as regards preventive measures?
Currently there are vaccines being tried in the outbreak in the DRC and reports are something to write home about. I am glad I donated my blood for the production of human antibody-based vaccine whose trial demonstrated 80 per cent efficacy. This is entirely different from the synthetic, plant and animal-based drugs being used currently. I am sure this will be a game changer for infected patients and reliable vaccine for staff who volunteer to take care of Ebola patients.
What propelled you to leave the country and where are you now?
I am in Cameroon doing surgical residency with the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons. One would think residency should be a reward by the Federal Government for what we passed through. But that was not the case. You would expect me to be doing my training in a teaching hospital in Nigeria and not Cameroon.
It is difficult in Nigeria because almost all the doctors are applying at the same time. We were more than the resources in the hospital we were applying to, hence it was difficult. We deserved to be helped and not made to pass through a process where merit is sparsely upheld during recruitment. We thought a compensation for jumping on the grenade for everyone was getting a residency slot. I don’t think that’s asking for too much.
The Minister of Health then, Onyebuchi Chukwu, came to First Consultants Medical Centre then and we made our request known. Residency training was part of it. But nothing was done. God, however, opened this door, far better than training in Nigeria to me. I will spend five years here.
On a personal level, what precautionary methods have you been taking?
Personally, I am not doing any special ritual to prevent Ebola virus. I have the immunity to the Zaire strain of the virus, though that does not mean I will offer a hug to an Ebola patient. I will advise people to abide by general safety precautions that help to prevent infection. Importantly, taking bitter kola or drinking highly salty water does not stop Ebola virus spread. Not shaking hands does not either; the Ebola virus is not transmissible before infected persons start manifesting symptoms.
Looking back, what has changed in your outlook of life after surviving Ebola?
Remembering the near-death experience, I can say life is long and short. If I had died, it would have been a short one for me. Getting a second chance to live is a rare opportunity many people desire on their sick beds. But God gave it to me on my sick bed at the Ebola Isolation Centre, Yaba, Lagos, when no one could stop the endless vomiting, diarrhoea and dreadful high-grade fever. All of these put together make me think there is a purpose for which God created us, hence we must ask Him for that and fulfil the reason why he sent us to this world.
Has there been any case of stigmatisation, if yes, how did you handle it?
I didn’t experience stigmatisation as much as others did. But for the little I had, I dealt with them professionally taking time to explain why a survivor is even the safest person to be with was my routine then. Ignorance is what breeds stigmatisation. People just need to have an understanding of the disease process before we can blame them for stigmatising.
How has life been since surviving Ebola?
All has been fine, thanks to God. Immediate post-recovery period was not easy due to pain and discomfort, but now I am restored to my pre-Ebola physical state. Besides, God has also blessed me with a baby girl who is now two years old.