On October 20, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that Nigeria had become officially Ebola free, with no new outbreaks in the past six weeks. Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, and this is extremely encouraging news.
Three days prior to this announcement, it was declared that Senegal had also seen an end to its Ebola outbreak.
Ebola arrived in Nigeria in July, yet only 20 people were infected and eight died. In comparison to the parts of West Africa most impacted by this outbreak, these numbers are quite miniscule.
This is proof that the virus can be contained and defeated, and both of these countries provide a model for how to respond to this disease.
Ebola continues to ravage the West African nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The situation in these three countries should not be understated, as they have collectively lost more than 4,500 people to this outbreak. In Liberia alone, 2,500 people have died.
In order to quell the epidemic in this region, the outside world must continue to provide support.
With that said, Senegal and Nigeria can teach other countries, including the United States, how to respond to and effectively contain an Ebola outbreak.
WHO officially declares the #Ebola outbreak in #Nigeria over and commends the country on its diligence to end the transmission of the virus — WHO (@WHO) October 20, 2014
#Senegal’s response is a good example of what to do when faced with an imported case of #Ebola http://t.co/1Txn5Ycdml — WHO (@WHO) October 17, 2014
Here are four valuable lessons we've learned from these two countries about how to contain and defeat an Ebola outbreak:
1. Prepare early. React swiftly. Stay vigilant.
Senegal and Nigeria both knew that their locations made them vulnerable to the spread of Ebola, which led them to prepare for a potential outbreak. Additionally, in Nigeria, local doctors received training from WHO and Medicine Without Borders.
Likewise, it's extremely important to promptly identify and screen any suspected cases, there is no room for error. It's crucial that individuals suspected to have Ebola are quarantined and diagnosed as soon as possible.
While Ebola is not as contagious as people might believe, isolating infected patients can help ensure that it does not spread. As the WHO notes in reference to Senegal's efforts:
The government’s response plan included identifying and monitoring 74 close contacts of the [first infected] patient, prompt testing of all suspected cases, stepped-up surveillance at the country’s many entry points and nationwide public awareness campaigns.
Correspondingly, Thomas Eric Duncan, the first individual to be diagnosed and die from Ebola in the United States, was not screened for the disease when he first went to a hospital.
In retrospect, this was a huge mistake, which almost certainly contributed to the spread of the disease to two of the nurses who treated him.
It's also important that countries remain vigilant, even if they have already seen Ebola come and go.
We live in a globalized world, anything could happen. Preparedness is vital to survival in this environment.
2. Educate the public. Eliminate fear and panic.
It's evident that there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding Ebola. When people aren't properly educated on a life-threatening disease like this, it can lead to panic and make coordinating a response more difficult. Accordingly, it's important that people know the facts.
Nigeria understood the significance of this factor, thus it actively sought to educate the public on Ebola via social media, television, radio and house-to-house information campaigns.
By letting the public know that individuals should come forward as soon as possible if they suspect they might be infected, a country can help prevent a widespread outbreak.
3. Strong leadership and international cooperation.
The Nigerian government declared a national public health emergency as soon as it confirmed its first case of Ebola. This led to the establishment of the Ebola Emergency Operation's Center (EOC).
The EOC provided a place where regional experts could work with the international community to coordinate an effective response. It's a war-room approach to the fight against Ebola.
4. Don't close your borders or issue travel bans.
Tracking the spread of Ebola is exceptionally important in terms of preventing a disastrous outbreak. This is achieved by determining where infected people have traveled and who they have come in contact with.
Accomplishing this becomes much more difficult when a country closes its borders or a travel ban is issued.
People cross borders regardless of whether they are permitted to, and it's much easier to track someone if he or she travels through airports. This is precisely why Nigeria didn't close its borders to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Not to mention, there is widespread evidence that travel bans don't work, as they have habitually failed to prevent the spread of diseases in the past.
Likewise, Dr. Faisal Shuaib of the Nigeria's Ebola Emergency Operation Center, stated:
Closing borders tends to reinforce panic and the notion of helplessness When you close the legal points of entry, then you potentially drive people to use illegal passages, thus compounding the problem.
Moreover, closing a nation's borders makes it more difficult to deliver supplies vital to combating the disease.
Additionally, this tactic limits economic and commercial activities. Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are already suffering economically and don't have the proper resources to combat Ebola.
Travel bans and border closures will not improve the situation whatsoever.
Simply put, if the world hopes to prevent the spread of Ebola, it's important that we come together to support the nations most negatively impacted by the current outbreak.
The front lines of the fight against Ebola are in West Africa, and this is where attention and resources must be focused.
Photo Courtesy: EC DHO