First case of corona virus disease confirmed in West Africa

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 February 2020:

Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health has today Friday, February 28, 2020, confirmed its first coronavirus disease (COVID-19) case in Lagos State, which also marks West Africa’s first. According to the Health Minister, the case is an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, Nigeria on the 25th of February 2020.

He was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos.

The Government of Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Health, said it has been strengthening measures to ensure an outbreak in Nigeria is controlled and contained quickly. It said that a multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has immediately activated its national Emergency Operations Centre and will work closely with Lagos State Health authorities to respond to this case and implement firm control measures.

The Minister of Health – Dr Osagie Ehanire, issued this statement today: “I wish to assure all Nigerians that have we have been beefing up our preparedness capabilities since the first confirmation of cases in China, and we will use all the resources made available by the government to respond to this case.

“We have already started working to identify all the contacts of the patient, since he entered Nigeria. Please be reminded that most people who become infected may experience only mild illness and recover easily, but it can be more severe in others, particularly the elderly and persons with other underlying chronic illnesses. All Nigerians should take care of their health and maintain hand and respiratory hygiene to protect themselves and others, including their own families, following the precautions below:

1. Regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water, and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

2. Maintain at least 1 & half metres (5 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

3. Persons with persistent cough or sneezing should stay home or keep a social distance, but not mix in crowd.

4. Make sure you and people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene, meaning cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or into your sleeve at the bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

5. Stay home if you feel unwell with symptoms like fever, cough and difficulty in breathing. Please call NCDC toll free number which is available day and night, for guidance- 0800-970000-10. Do not engage in self-medication

6. Stay informed on the latest developments about COVID-19 through official channels on TV and Radio, including the Lagos State Ministry of Health, NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health.

“Citizens must not abuse social media and indulge in spreading misinformation that causes fear and panic. The Federal Ministry of Health, through Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, will continue to provide updates and will initiate all measures required to prevent the spread of any outbreak in Nigeria,” the Health Minister warns.

In Sierra Leone the message from the government remains unclear and citizens are getting very anxious over the government’s seeming lack of preparations and absence of any national sensitisation strategy, which many say is why the country and its people were crippled by the Ebola virus in 2013.

BBC’s Umaru Fofanah wrote: “Coronavirus is now in west Africa. It came to Nigeria via Italy. Sierra Leone’s problematic health system will struggle to cope with the virus. With those who helped us deal with Ebola five years ago struggling with the new virus in their own backyard, assistance will be hard to come. So prevention is our best bet.

“Impose a moratorium on the administration of herbal treatment by mobilizing communities especially in rural areas. Practice robust personal hygiene. Commercial sex workers should stop going onboard foreign vessels to practice their trade. Save your life and your friend’s. If we struggle to deal with typhoid, we will cave in under coronavirus. God doesn’t come down to help us – that’s why he gave us a head to think.”

This is the advice put out today by the Freetown City Council on preventing and spread of the coronavirus disease: “As the first case of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in Nigeria has been confirmed, we ask Freetonians to do the following, as prescribed by the World Health Organisation and Ministry of Health, to stay safe; wash your hands regularly; cough or sneeze into your elbows or a tissue; do not touch your nose, eyes, mouth without washing your hands. We need Freetonians healthy and safe as we transform Freetown”.

Writing on social media last night, social and political commentator – Oswald Hanciles (The Guru), warned the Bio led government not to be complacent. This is what he said, as he reminds the government and people of Sierra Leone about the Ebola scourge:

“I humbly suggest that the Ministry of Health and Sanitation start a WhatsApp forum that would regularly churn out authoritative information on the coronavirus, and assure the public of government’s preparedness.

All other media should be used; and let the government facilitate in its communications strategy the use of elected leaders; civil society leaders; religious leaders; youth and women leaders; trade association leaders, etc… aggressively engaging in face-to-face meetings with target peoples.

Let’s not wait to react like we did when the Ebola virus had struck Liberia and Guinea in 2013. I remember it well; I had written articles on it in THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN.

In late 2013, the well-educated, articulate, erudite, but unfit-to-be-health-minister, Miatta Kargbo, was leading the government team going around the country to educate people about the Ebola virus, and to prepare people to take preventative action. One of such meetings was with the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (an association of Muslims and Christians in Sierra Leone).

It was held at the Council of Churches of Sierra Leone (CCSL) building on Kingharman Road in Freetown. Most of the leaders of the Christian and Islamic faiths were present – including the Catholic Archbishop, and the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, Rev. Tom Barnett.

At the aforementioned meeting, the viral experts at the health ministry educated the audience about the Ebola virus. They told us the primary carrier of the Ebola Virus were bats; and we should avoid bats’ poopoo or urine dropping on our heads; or, avoid eating bats. It was scary thing for Freetown dwellers.

Every evening, hundreds of thousands of bats fly from their homes in tall trees and caves to search for food – they fly over the heads of Freetown dwellers. Almost in an undertone, one of the viral experts said that it was not all species of bats that would infect humans with the Ebola virus.

There wasn’t information on how the Ebola Virus had hit the people in the DR Congo in the 1970s; or, even detailed information on the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the government of Sierra Leone had sent delegations to study the situations there. There weren’t leaflets circulated. There wasn’t a video shown.

The haughty Minister of Health and Sanitation, Miatta Kargbo, in her characteristic condescending tone, appealed to the religious leaders to spread the message on the Ebola virus in their places of worship.

Clearly, smarting from the criticisms from the Sierra Leonean media on her allegedly poor handling of the emerging Ebola threat, Miatta Kargbo hit back at the media – hinting at their general incompetence. I noticed that none of the elite print and electronic media professionals were present in that meeting.

After that meeting, I wrote an article in THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN on it: chiding the health minister for her combative tone with the media; and advising her to organize meetings with the media, especially the elite media professionals. She didn’t follow my advice.

As the meeting drew to a close, one of the religious leaders in his prayers to God thanked God for his miracle of sparing Sierra Leone – though Sierra Leone sits bang between Liberia and Guinea being afflicted by the Ebola Virus. The Christian leader prayed that God would continue to spare Sierra Leone from an Ebola attack.

The Ebola Virus stuck Sierra Leone in 2014. God did not listen to the prayers of the Christian clergy. In one of my articles in THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN, I wrote a piece titled “God will not listen to our Ebola-prayers”. I wrote that God has given man intelligence to use; and this intelligence must be used to wage war on the Ebola Enemy.

In its initial months, the Ebola Virus killed several of our most qualified and most experienced medical doctors, who apparently had underestimated how lethal the Ebola Virus can be. A good many nurses were also killed by the Ebola Virus – simply because they lacked knowledge of its transmission; and they lacked protective clothing.

Before the Ebola Virus had hit Sierra Leone, I wrote an article in THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN titled “Let Ernest’s Ebola War Not be like Kabbah’s RUF War”. In that piece, I pointed out how SLPP Leader, President Tejan Kabbah, grossly underestimated the RUF rebels and renegade soldiers within his own military (who staged the May 25, 1997 coup; and mutated into AFRC sobels by 1998): until the RUF and AFRC TWICE took over the capital city, causing thousands of people to be brutally murdered; amputated; raped; historic Krio wooden houses arsoned – and warned APC Leader, former President Ernest Bai Koroma, NOT to be like President Kabbah in his response to the ‘Ebola Enemy’. Of course, though I was the media adviser to former President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House, he never took heed of my public advise.

As thousands of people started being killed by the Ebola Virus, the government almost belatedly established an emergency response team by mid-2014, and put a retired military officer, Major Palo Conteh, as head of it. It was only then some of the robust measures on lockdown, etc…that I had published in THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN were partially effected.

In China, Japan, and Italy, international media daily inform us about the firm stance being taken by medical authorities and security agencies in responding to the coronavirus enemy. I hope the SLPP government of Retired Brigadier Maada Bio is learning – and would not respond to the coronavirus threat like President Ernest Bai Koroma responded to the Ebola Virus enemy; and President Tejan Kabbah responded to the RUF rebels and AFRC sobels.

Waiting until there is a coronavirus crisis before going into action in the hope that that would strike the conscience of the developed countries and aid money would flow to tame the coronavirus may not work this time.

The developed countries are already in near-panic mode about the coronavirus which has reached their shores. They would be very slow in responding to a coronavirus pandemic in Sierra Leone; in Africa.

The Ebola War in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone was not just a medical crisis, it turned out to be an economic crisis as well. It’s fallout could have been a key reason why the APC lost the presidential election of 2018. Already, the economic ramifications of the coronavirus outbreak in China is being felt in the United States, Iran, Italy….

I am optimistic that this time….they would listen to me.”

“No country should assume it won’t get cases. That could be a fatal mistake. This virus does not respect borders. It does not distinguish between races or ethnicities. It has no regard for a country’s GDP or level of development,” says WHO Director-General – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

4 Comments

  1. Will it be a good idea if the Bio Administration temporarily ban all visitors and travellers from countries where the Coronavirus is active from entering Sierra Leone? Citizens and travellers from China, Italy, South Korea, etc must be banned from entering Sierra Leone in my view.

    I know very well the help we get from these countries. But we can’t risk the lives of seven million Sierra Leoneans because of friends in need. Think about that Mr President. God help Sierra Leone from Coronavirus and God help people and citizens infected with Coronavirus from entering our country.

  2. We must be prepared for what is to come. Ebola should have taught us the lessons we need to know by now. Vigilance is what is needed now,to keep our citizens safe. Let us put politics aside for a moment,we will have enough time in the future to keep on pointing fingers of blame.

  3. Serious stuff! The Coronavirus is a very serious and dangerous disease. The Bio Administration must take the Coronavirus threat very seriously. Problems like this must not be politicised in my view. Also, African countries especially Sierra Leone, which went through that painful Ebola dilemma must be alert and prepared. The Ministry of health must start right now to inform people about basic hygiene throughout the country. Also, the government must look carefully into making the necessary funding for building isolation centres in every district.

    The ACC was boasting of having recovered millions of dollars from corrupt officials. Some of that amount should be used to make preparations in case the Coronavirus strikes. Does that makes sense? Don’t wait till this deadly virus strikes before providing/talking about funding Mr President. Then it will be too late.

    It seems as if the problem is becoming a pandemic. With Coronavirus becoming a pandemic, every country will be busy trying to help its citizens. They won’t have time to help others. In fact, people are dying in countries that have the resources to stand such crisis. Sierra Leone has nothing when it comes to fighting such dangerous disease. So, if the Bio Administration is waiting or looking forward for aid from other countries, God forbids if this deadly disease strikes, then, they are not going to get anything. The countries who normally would like to help, will be fighting the Coronavirus on their own doorsteps. So, no time for complacency.

    The Bio Administration must take the lead and initiative right now to make the necessary preparations. This is the time for his PHD cabinet ministers and associates to use their PHD knowledge/skills to make common sense decisions and do something proactive against this dangerous pandemic in my view. Some innovation can be thought of if they care. I hope the President and the Bio Administration don’t wait till the last minute. God help protect Sierra Leone from this deadly Coronavirus. Amen and Amen.

  4. As always said, a first mistake set the base for future wisdom and knowledge. I hope current government of Sierra Leone has no space for error when dealing with preparedness for the killer coronavirous. Complacency is laziness and ineptitude. I am with conviction that the current regime may not take this as play cards.

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