Friday, August 22, 2014


The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Health (FMH) organised a one-day sensitisation workshop on Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and Hajj 2014 operations. The workshop, which brought Hajj stakeholders from all over the country, was held on Thursday, 14th August 2014, in the Tafawa Balewa Hall of Nicon Luxury Hotel, Area 11, Abuja.

Dignitaries at the event included NAHCON Chairman/CEO, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, the Honourable Minister of State for Health, Dr Khaliru Alhassan, and Sheikh Ibrahim Al Qayidy, the Head of Consular Section, Saudi Arabian Embassy, Abuja. Others were Catherine Avery, Deputy Director, US, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Mary Stephen, Representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and Dr Ibrahim Abubakar Kana, Head of NAHCON Medical Committee.

In his welcome address, NAHCON Chairman/CEO, expressed delight at the large turnout of participants to this important workshop, hoping that ‘at the end of the day’ everybody present will be well informed to play their role effectively and ‘appropriately’ in our collective struggle against EVD.

Dr Ibrahim Abubakar Kana, Head of NAHCON Medical Committee presented a paper on Screening Modalities for Nigerian Pilgrims, where he informed the gathering on government’s efforts in controlling and preventing the spread of EVD in Nigerian. This could not have come at a better time when over 70,000 pilgrims are soon to commence their journey to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj.

He stressed the need for getting information on what Hajj stakeholders must do, and how pilgrims should conduct themselves during their stay in, and at the time of their return from Saudi Arabia. NAHCON, according to him, ‘is working hard, the Nigerian government is working hard’ to ensure, through the protocol laid down by WHO, that no pilgrim takes EVD to Saudi Arabia. There shall be screening of all pilgrims throughout the federation before they embark on the Hajj journey, he said; ‘NAHCON will prevent from travelling, any pilgrim suspected of carrying the disease, even at the point of departure. We are all here, the air carriers, the tour operators, and we are all working together to ensure that no single pilgrim is infected in Nigeria, and if he is, he is not taking the virus out of this country.’

Mary Stephen, Representative of WHO, said such workshop would help in curtailing the spread of EVD in Nigeria, especially among the intending pilgrims. ‘We wish to commend the efforts of Federal Ministry of Health and the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria for organising this important workshop;’ she said, ‘as we all know, the WHO is currently supporting the Nigerian government in its effort to contain the Ebola outbreak. I, therefore, wish all of you fruitful deliberations, and a successful Hajj 2014.’

Catherine Avery, Deputy Director, United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), expressed appreciation to the organisers for giving her the opportunity to participate in the workshop. She joined other speakers before her in commending the efforts of FMoH and NAHCON in the control of the outbreak of EVD. ‘The United States, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’ she said, ‘fully aligns itself with the efforts of the Federal Ministry of Health in controlling the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in Nigeria, and is committed to seeing it through. Since the report of the first confirmed case of Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria, CDC has deployed its human and material resources to the Federal Ministry of Health in controlling the situation. Several of our experienced in-country staff as well as staff deployed from our Atlanta office are in Lagos to provide assistance for surveillance, contact tracing, entry and exit screening, infection control and communications. They are working closely with the Federal Ministry of Health and other stakeholders in developing guidelines from laboratory diagnosis to screening inbound and outbound passengers at ports of entry and exit. … CDC is always committed to saving lives and protecting people. It will continue to support Nigeria in the control of EVD, and other disease twenty hours a day, seven days a week. I am quite impressed by the number of pilgrims from Nigeria. If the information provided here today is adhered to Ebola will not be a problem to any of Nigeria’s pilgrims.’

Catherine Avery, Deputy Director, US, CDC,Sheikh Ibrahim Al Qayidy, the  Consul, Saudi Embassy, Abuja, NAHCON Chairman/CEO, Mal Muhammad Musa Bello, Honourable Minister of State for Health, Dr Khaliru Alhassan

Catherine’s statement above looks and sounds impressive but in practice, what the CDC has done for Nigeria is scarcely anything Nigerians could not have done for themselves. Where we really need their help is in getting the experimental ZMAPP serum which, despite the fact that it was an American citizen that infected Nigeria, they have refused to give Nigeria. This makes nonsense of the claim that the CDC is committed to saving lives and protecting people. It looks more like saving their pockets to me. But that is for another time.

Sheikh Ibrahim Al Qayidy, the Head of Consular Section, Saudi Arabian Embassy, was glad that NAHCON brought about this workshop at a time when Nigerian pilgrims are preparing for the holy trip of Hajj into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He commended FMoH and NAHCON for sensitising the stakeholders on EVD in relation to Hajj 2014 operations.

The Honourable Minister of State for Health, Dr Khaliru Alhassan, said , on a lighter mood, that he would not say anything until he made sure that people from his constituency of Sokoto State were represented at the event. When the Minister confirmed that Sokoto State was indeed represented, as many participants indicated by either standing up or raising their hands, he commenced his extempore speech by congratulating ‘NAHCON for accepting our proposal to invite this distinguished gathering to discuss the current situation.’ In his view, 'even though Ebola is on our minds,’ there are other diseases that should concern us due to the kind of journey that we are speaking about, namely Hajj.

He said respiratory infections, cholera, etc. should also engage our concern. He called on the gathering to remember that Ebola was alien to us because the disease came into the country ‘by accident through a Liberian’. This man, in the Minister’s view, should not have been allowed to leave his country, in the first place, or allowed in Nigeria. He said as at the time of his address, Ebola was confined to Lagos state, kept in check due to collaborative efforts with bodies like WHO, US - CDC and others. ‘As of today,’ he said, ‘there are eleven confirmed cases in Nigeria, out of which 3 had died – the index case, that is the person who brought the disease, plus two health workers, who were dealing with the patient. So presently, the eight remaining are receiving treatment, and they are making good progress. Alhamdulillah, we have been able to do a lot of contact tracing to ensure that any person who came into contact with Patrick Sawyer has been traced.

‘Those who have shown sign of infection are being quarantined. Those who had primary contact we kept them under observation. Today is the 24th day since Patrick came into Nigeria, going by the medical history of the disease, it has incubation period of 2 to 21 days, so, all primary contacts of Mr Sawyer should be in the clear, except those who have contracted the disease. Alhamdulillah, the collaborative effort is yielding progress. 65 out of 177 under clinical review were withdrawn, so we are doing well. We should continue to do more. Presently, Ebola is more of a problem to health workers than the general public because an Ebola patient is more dangerous when he has high fever, he can be infectious, and most of the time they are not mobile, they are at home or in the hospital. Sadly, it is no more business as usual for our health workers to see patients. I know the experts will educate you on this more. I appeal to you to remain calm, there is no panic, because with simple personal hygiene, good hand washing, which Muslims do five times a day, we should do, we should use soap as this is enough to control 80 per cent of cross infection.’

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