TOMI FALADE, IFEOMA ONONYE And LUKMON AKINTOLA
Lagos – When the Ebola crisis rocked Africa in 2014, the number of real Nigerian casualties inspired many people to begin to pay attention to proper hygiene, wherever they were, and in whatever they did. The harsh reality was that death was out there, and if it could take someone like the enlightened Dr Stella Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, the Lead Consultant Physician and Endocrinologist at a private hospital in Lagos, then who was really safe?
In the aftermath of Dr. Adadevoh’s death as a result of her contact with Liberian patient, Patrick Sawyer, who had flown into the country, already sick, Nigeria reacted in a manner many did not know was possible. Nigeria had never had an Ebola case before, so Adadevoh’s spirit of bravery was not only commendable but in many opinions, it was Nigeria’s saving grace.
In the months that followed her death, the level of awareness created for Ebola and other deadly virus remains outstanding. Many public locations like banks, malls, hospitals, schools and places of worship had hand sanitiser and wash hand basins placed in strategic locations around their facilities. Some even went as far as distributing face masks to purify the very air that people breathed. Nigeria had a world-class response to a problem many realised could end an entire race. Months down the line though, we seem to have forgotten how it all started, and many have returned to the status quo.
However, there are those who have not forgotten when the reality of Ebola death darkened Nigeria’s borders, and these patriots of quality health are the members of the nonprofit organisation that is today known as DRASA Health Trust.
DRASA, an abbreviation of Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, the courageous doctor who correctly diagnosed and contained the first case of Ebola virus in Nigeria currently remains one of the few organisations that work to strengthen Nigeria’s preparedness for future outbreaks.
Speaking with Niniola Williams, Managing Director of DRASA Health Trust NGO, who visited Independent Newspapers Ltd office during the week, in the company of another member of DRASA, Saturday INDEPENDENT gathered that the zeal with which Nigerians fight to prevent such outbreaks has drastically reduced in the last five years, almost becoming complacent to the problem.
She said, “It has been five years since Dr. Adadevoh and three of her colleagues died. It took us a year to formulate what we wanted to do. Some people said ‘name a hospital after her’ and many other different things, but we knew that whatever we wanted to do, we wanted it to have a lasting impact. We knew that she would want us to do something that was bigger. So we decided to start an NGO, a nonprofit organisation and that is where DRASA came from.”
Having launched in October 2015, the organisation had maintained its mandate to protect Nigeria from infectious diseases, and not just Ebola.
Explaining the way the NGO works, Williams said, “The way we work is in two aspects. We work in communities and we also work with the government within the health sector. For example, LUTH is a federal teaching hospital. A lot of people go there for care. People are referred there when other hospitals don’t know what to do. We went there because they are struggling with some of their infection controls. As much as you can get infected in the community, you can also go to a hospital and get an infection there which was what happened with Ebola. That is where our job comes in. ‘How do we prevent that from happening on a consistent basis?’
“Right now at LUTH, they have a Yellow Fever case; they just discharged a Leprosy case, they have a Monkey pox case and Lassa Fever. So beyond Ebola, there are many other infectious diseases that we are dealing with within our borders that if we are not careful, it can enter into our communities and cause a massive loss of lives. We are trying to equip people in the hospitals to be able to do what Doctor Adadevoh and her team did. How do you see a patient and know that they have Ebola or Lassa Fever? It is a difficult thing to know and this is where we come in. What we do in the health sector isn’t to support hospital facilities, we look at the ministry of health to find out some of the policies we have on ground to support the doctors.”
Williams further explained that the NGO works mostly with schools. “We as a team will not be able to be everywhere. What we have done is to set up health and hygiene’s club. Just like you can join Girls Guild in school, we now have DRASA clubs that students can join. We train these students every Wednesday during their curricular period; we teach them about health and hygiene and then we send them into the communities so that they can do things that can impact the community to improve their health,” she said.
Continuing, she said, “there was a time we had a waste problem in Lagos and the environment was messy. The floods were increasing, everything was mixing up and people were getting sick. So we teach these youths how to keep the environments clean. We teach small practices like, keeping rats away from your food, don’t keep your ‘garri’ on the ground where rats can access it, wash your hands regularly, wash your fruits and vegetables properly, cook your meat well… simple things that can prevent them from getting ill.
“Also, schools are like hospitals, once one person is sick, everybody is sick. Once a child gets an illness, next thing every child will have it and then they will go home and their parents will take care of them and they too will get it. The parents will not be able to go to work and the economic value of that family is affected. The impact of what we do is big and we can’t quantify it.”
Also speaking on Nigeria’s preventive measures and our sustaining power as a nation, Williams said, “Since the time of Ebola, nobody is washing their hands. When Ebola was here, there were hand sanitisers everywhere. Everybody was being very neat and careful, but we have lost it. We are not supposed to lose it because even if Ebola is not here, we have cases of Yellow Fever, Leprosy, and other infectious diseases. Just because nobody is talking about it does not mean that we don’t have them.
“We also carry out our exercises at the ports and airports because we know that people are coming into our country and going out everyday and these diseases are moving with them. The same way that a Liberian came into this country with Ebola, it can happen any day if we don’t apply caution. We do some exercise where we ask questions like ‘if someone comes into the country with a bleeding nose, what will the officials do?’ We use fake blood to act out our point. We try and look at ways we can test how they handle cases like these, whether they would just allow the person in or send the person aside and ask for medical personnel to attend to the person.
“You go to Ghana airport, for instance, they have never stopped their screening since the Ebola cases. You cannot enter their airport without them checking your temperature or your Yellow Fever card. If it’s a fake card, they will pull you aside and give you the yellow fever vaccine before they let you enter their country, but Nigerian airports have stopped since.”
On funding, Williams shared that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is their biggest supporter. “Beyond that, we have had a lot of individuals contribute. Now that we are five years away from the event and people have forgotten, we don’t have so much of individuals’ donations again, but we have some corporate organisations that still remember us and donate,” she said.