PORT OF SPAIN – Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said yesterday the travel ban on Nigeria remains, notwithstanding the fact that the World Health Organisation yesterday declared Nigeria to be Ebola-free.
“The decision of the Cabinet would stand until further notice as the Prime Minister said,” he told the Express yesterday, when asked whether Government would reconsider its travel ban on the West African nation, in the light of the WHO’s pronouncements. Cabinet last Thursday placed a ban on travel to Nigeria and four other African nations (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Democratic Republic of Congo). The Government mandated that Trinbagonians living in those countries who wish to return home, must be placed under a 21-day quarantine.
“So we will look at it again, based on the new information. Obviously it would be looked at, it would be discussed by the Cabinet and a decision would be taken,” he said.
The World Health Organisation said Nigeria’s Ebola-free status, after having had 20 cases of Ebola, represented a “rare victory” in the months-long battle against the fatal disease.
The disease continues to spread rapidly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and has claimed more than 4,500 lives.
But Nigeria’s containment of Ebola was a “spectacular success story,” WHO’s director for Nigeria, Rui Gama Vaz, told a news conference in the capital, Abuja.
On Friday, a Nigerian national, Malond Aisha Adu arrived in Trinidad on Caribbean Airlines Fight BW 525 and was not allowed into Trinidad and Tobago, in keeping with the ban imposed by the Government. The woman reportedly stated she would lodge a formal complaint with her Government over her deportation from Trinidad and Tobago.
Yesterday the Nigerian High Commission declined to comment on the issue and instead issued a print out of a news report confirming the WHO had declared Nigeria to be Ebola-free.
Last week, Musa John Jen resigned as Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago in order to return to Nigeria to contest a governorship. When the Express visited the commission’s headquarters in St Clair yesterday, a secretary stated that deputy High Commissioner Ade Yemi was in a meeting and would not be available for comment.
An AP report stated that in July, Ebola had come to Lagos, Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous city, through an airline passenger who had carried Ebola from Liberia to Nigeria. The July 23 announcement about the disease hitting Nigeria “rocked public health communities all around the world”, the WHO said in a statement.
Many feared the worst in in an urban sprawl characterised by large populations living in crowded and unsanitary conditions in many slums. Lagos’ population of about 21 million people is nearly the combined populations of the infected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the statement said.
“The last thing anyone in the world wants to hear are the two words, ‘Ebola’ and ‘Lagos’, in the same sentence,” US Consul General Jeffrey Hawkins noted at the time, saying the juxtaposition conjured up images of an “apocalyptic urban outbreak”.
Instead, with swift coordination between state and federal health officials, the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control, and with ample financial and material resources from Nigeria’s government, isolation wards were immediately constructed and, more slowly, designated Ebola treatment centres.
Health officials reached every single known person to have contact with infected people in Lagos and 99.8 per cent in Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s oil capital, where the disease was carried by an infected diplomat.
With 18,500 visits to 894 contacts, health workers tracked the progress of all who had come in contact with the disease.
In the end, Nigeria suffered 20 cases of Ebola and eight deaths, including those of two doctors and a nurse, the AP report said.
It noted that yesterday’s announcement came after 42 days passed—twice the disease’s maximum incubation period—since the last case in Nigeria tested negative.
“The outbreak in Nigeria has been contained,” Vaz said. “But we must be clear that we only won a battle. The war will only end when West Africa is also declared free of Ebola.”
According to the AP report, Vaz warned that Nigeria’s geographical position and extensive borders makes the country, Africa’s most populous of over 160 million people, vulnerable to additional imported cases of Ebola.
Nigerian officials are checking for such dangers at land, air and sea borders.
“We must remain vigilant,” said Hussaini Abdu, Nigeria’s country director for the charity ActionAid. “Ebola is a highly dangerous virus and we must stay alert to any signs of new infections so we can respond quickly and effectively.”