Lessons From Nigeria and Senegal About Containing Ebola

For many, the African continent remains framed as Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ but the Ebola epidemic has demonstrated that developed countries can learn a lot about stemming the spread of the virulent virus.  With both Nigeria and Senegal being declared Ebola-free after successfully stopping the virus’ spread in the countries, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken note of their containment strategies and these (hopefully) have informed the design the new protocols being put in place now.

Both Nigeria and Senegal have been ahead of the game in stopping Ebola in its tracks in those locations.  Unlike their neighbors in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone that are struggling to contain the virus, Nigeria’s and Senegal’s more stable economies and health care infrastructure networks have been advantages in their battle to contain the disease.

  Both countries’ last reported cases of the disease were at the end of August.  No further infections have since been tracked.  The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) recognized Nigeria’s success in stopping the Ebola virus with a special commendation.  This, as the organizations ominously noted that the virus was taking a terrible toll on the West African’s human capital and forecast that the current outbreak’s economic impact could be in the region of $3.2B US if it is not contained by the end of 2015.

Senegal, which shares a border with Liberia where the infection rate continues to explode, took immediate action to limit the chance of infection as far back as March when the outbreak was in its infancy stages.  By instituting timely preventive action that included stringent medical checks of all persons and cargo entering by air, sea and land,  the Senegalese  government was able to block the entry of any infected patients.   At the peak peak of the epidemic in August, not only did Senegal temporarily close its borders with Guinea but also equipped “village heads [with mobile phones]to point out Guinean people who were smuggled into Senegal”.  Senegal had just one reported case of Ebola.

Even as the two nurses who contracted the Ebola virus from patient, Thomas Eric Duncan at the Texas Health Presbyterian hospital are being treated, calls continue to be made for the Obama administration to close the borders to flight originating from the three most affected countries.  While the administration has resisted these calls fearing that closing the borders hamper the free flow of medical aid and personnel and contribute to the growing stigmatization of the disease, others have called for more stringent testing of passengers arriving from the region.

How Did They Prevent an Ebola Outbreak?

In looking to the successful Nigeria and Senegal examples of disease control, here is a sample of the strategies implemented by these countries to prevent the spread of Ebola:

* Isolating and containing the index patient to limit contact with others

* Excellent contact tracking to trace and follow-up with all those who had first or secondary contact with patient zero

* Enforced incubation or quarantine period of 21 days for all contacts

* Strict border controls – air, sea, land – with all arrivals displaying any symptoms or hints of ill health being medically examined before disembarkation

* Community leaders and broader communities were actively involved in reporting any instances of border breaches and in educating everyone about the virus and steps to take to prevent infection

* All media used to educate the population.  Messages were also translated into variety of languages to expand reach to even the most remote communities.

[For more detailed explanation see Senegalese journalist Mortalla Diop’s report on Senegal’s Ebola experience.]

[For more details on how Nigeria stopped Ebola, see Business Insider’s Pamela Engel’s article here.]

Both Nigeria and Senegal are justifiably proud of their success against such a formidable foe as the Ebola virus.  Their proactive approach in galvanizing so many stakeholders into action in their Ebola fight is laudable in countries that the West typically associates with failing political and social infrastructures.  In this instance these two countries have led the way in illustrating effective strategies for fighting contagious viruses before they can escalate into full fledged epidemics.  The templates provided by these countries shed light (rather than darkness) on how public policy might be shaped and implemented against diseases that plague the African continent and set back their human and economic development.  Other African countries and those around the globe should take note.

 

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