On Ebola: Going Forward

As terrifying as the Ebola virus is, the Nigerian experience has shown that it is both possible and advantageous to strengthen national capacities to manage and contain the spread of the disease. Another important lesson is that disease-centered capacity-building can be locally-generated, and adaptable to different kinds of outbreaks. The process of strengthening national capacity should not start and end with successfully containing a single outbreak, but rather, should aim at designing rapid response and emergency care systems that work both in and out of crisis periods.

If unchecked, the untreatable nature of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) could lead to uncontrolled administration of experimental drugs on vulnerable patients, with lifelong devastating consequences. This imposes an obligation on the Nigerian government to raise the bar in the regulation of drug administration, especially in privately-run healthcare institutions. Thorough vigilance is required to ensure that infected citizens are not used as guinea pigs for phony clinical trials, whether rendered under the façade of charity or purely driven by profit maximization. The Pfizer meningitis drug testing exercise that killed large numbers of children in northern Nigeria is one unhappy example.

In Sierra Leone, the administration of a potentially dangerous untested heart drug known as amiodarone on ebola patients provoked public outrage, including staff walkouts at a treatment center. Because it was poorly regulated, amiodarone administration “increased morbidity’ and caused a high rate of ‘unexplained respiratory distress”. Medical abuses of this nature make it imperative for the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and other regulatory agencies to toughen regulations for obtaining informed patient, and back up those regulations with rigorous monitoring measures.

Further, because globalization has thinned down national borderlines making it impracticable to effectively restrict human movement, providing technical support and assistance to countries in the region with more intense EVD transmission rates should be considered as an indispensable strategy for containing the spread of the EVD. Forging stronger collaborative ties with international health bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) is crucial. This is to design cross-border interventions aimed at breaking chains of transmission mainly through early detection and isolation of cases, provision of quarantine facilities and protective gears for health personnel, and structured improvements in the training of national surveillance officers – key measures that cannot be postponed to a later date.

Helping to lower the transmission rates in neighboring countries considerably reduces the risk of contamination from infected persons who enter the country legally or otherwise.

Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri is Executive Director of Spaces for Change and a graduate student of Harvard Law School.

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