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What Brazil can learn from Nigeria when it comes to controlling the Zika virus

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Category: Education Finance Published: Thursday, 07 July 2016 Written by Admin

The onward march of the Zika virus and the dread it is causing is starkly reminiscent of the cloud cast by Ebola. With the Olympic Games looming in Brazil, and thousands of visitors due to flock into the country, the original source of Zika, I believe there are lessons that can be absorbed from how we dealt with the earlier outbreak.

When Nigeria experienced its first case of Ebola I was in the US at an African Leaders' Conference with President Obama. It was 20 July 2014. Immediately, I flew back home, and went straight to the office rather than my house. I called an emergency meeting of those in the federal government connected with communicable diseases: the ministers of health, water resources, education, finance, justice, transport and others.

The first "index" case was of an American Liberian, Patrick Sawyer. He was suspected by the Liberian authorities of having contracted Ebola. He evaded them and managed to board a plane for Lagos. By the time he arrived he was very ill, with a high fever. He was taken to a private hospital and died 36 hours later.

There was no doubting the gravity of the situation. What we'd feared since the first outbreak in December 2013 had arrived. Ebola had spread through West Africa and now the potentially deadly virus was in Nigeria.

The consequences of it reaching us were grave - not just for Nigeria but for the entire world. Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, home to almost 200m people, many of whom live in poverty, without running water and sanitation. It's far bigger than its neighbours, with a border of 3,045 miles. Nigeria's cities are big and sprawling - Lagos alone has 21m inhabitants.

The Nigerian diaspora is huge and the effect of people visiting relatives or travelling on business and passing on the virus did not bear thinking about. What had been an epidemic now had a real chance of spiralling out of control into a global pandemic. 

In many ways we faced similar problems to those encountered by the government of Brazil as it battles to contain the Zika virus.

Brazil is also an enormous country with large cities and shanty towns. Again, it has a vast border, its citizens travel far and wide, and it's a destination for travellers - not least with the Olympics due to take place in Rio de Janeiro in August.



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