It is not Armageddon yet but for many in Lagos, this is as close to doomsday as we may ever get. It is not war that threatens to annihilate us; for there are no armies or legions amassed on our borders. Rather, it is the burgeoning presence of a viral disease that poses this biggest challenge to us. On July 20 2014, a 40-year old Liberian flew into Lagos on transit to Calabar aboard an Asky Airlines plane. Patrick Sawyer, a consultant for the Liberian Ministry of Finance, arrived in Nigeria sick and was immediately detained by health authorities suspecting he might have the dreaded Ebola virus. Details of the suspected case were obtained from a private health facility in the state, First Consultants Hospital, Obalende.

According to Yewande Adeshina, Special Adviser to the Governor of Lagos

the 40-year old man had no contact with Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) as he did not visit any person with EVD in the hospital and neither did he partake in the burial of any person who died of the disease.

However, on account of working and living in an endemic region for EVD, and the presentation of non-specific constitutional symptoms and signs of fever, malaise, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea and others associated with EVD, a high index of suspension was raised.

Based on this, blood samples were taken to Virology Reference Laboratory, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), on Tuesday. Preliminary results necessitated the confirmation of EVD at a World Health Organization, WHO Reference Laboratory in Dakar, Senegal which is actively in process

On Friday, July 25, the patient reportedly died and was immediately cremated. The Lagos State Government announced Friday that blood tests from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital confirmed Sawyer died of ebola earlier that day. It is the first suspected case of Ebola in Nigeria, which the World Health Organization has recored over 1,000 cases in an epidemic that has raged across West Africa in recent months. The virus, which can incubate for up to 21 days, has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent and has already claimed more than 673 lives.

What is Ebola Virus?

The Ebola virus, also called Ebola hemorrhagic fever or Ebola virus disease was first discovered in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and named after the Ebola River where the DRC outbreak was found in a nearby village. It is a rare but deadly infection that causes bleeding inside and outside the body and the WHO calls it:

one of the world’s most virulent diseases

Ebola strikes mainly in remote villages and some cities of Central and West Africa and until this week, was unknown in Nigeria. The disease kills up to 90% of people who are infected. Usually an outbreak starts when someone comes into contact with the body fluids or waste of infected animals, such as monkeys, chimps, or fruit bats. Once a person is infected, he or she can then spread it to others. The most recent outbreak, which began earlier this year, has already killed 673 people in at least four countries. This is alarming. So far, Ebola has been confined to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—all war-torn and largely rural west African countries.

Why the world should be afraid

Of all the threats posed by this disease in west africa, Lagos presents a challenge of a different kind. Not only is it Africa’s biggest city, with 21 million people, it’s also one of the world’s most densely populated and a center for international travel. Left un-contained, the virus could easily go on devastating global run, the scale of which is unknown.

Between the 170 million people living within its borders and a further 30 – 50 million others living abroad but still call the country home, the capacity to inflict the world with unmitigated health disaster is a solemn one. We are a notoriously mobile people, finding space in far flung reaches of this earth. One in every five black persons you see is a Nigerian. Though there is a Nigerian community in every country and corner of the world, yet Every Nigerian has this inexplicable cultural ties to his/her roots. And no matter where they go and for how long they’ve been away, they invariably return home and home is where Ebola will be, if this deadly virus hits us.

Years of inept leadership, corruption and systemic looting of our commonwealth has left the country prostate with a near collapsed health sector. The fact that the victim passed through Lagos is even more worrying as any potential outbreak in this famously overcrowded city where many live in cramped conditions and is a major international travel hub in Africa could be catastrophic on a global scale

Lagos is completely different from other cities because we’re talking about millions of people

– Dr Unni Krishnan, Plan International

Indeed, there are 21 million people that call Lagos home. On Mr. Sawyer alone, 59 persons are being monitored and traced over this single journey.

So far, efforts to contain the outbreak from the Nigerian perspective has been described as a ‘scramble’ after Sawyer arrived in Lagos for an international conference, and then died Friday. This is despite months of advanced warnings and demands from the authorities to release their detailed contingency plan on the disease. Worse, as at the time this Ebola incident occurred, doctors under the aegis of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, were on a national strike action. They are still on that strike and you begin to wonder how the country intends to tackle this problem if it’s primary healthcare providers aren’t even available! While we wait with baited breath over the next 21 days or so to determine if this virus has indeed caught on in the country, be assured we will ask questions of this government if this disease goes beyond this isolated incident.

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