WHO Cites Nigeria’s Response to Halt Ebola as Blueprint

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Nigeria’s success in stopping Ebola shows how the virus can be stamped out and is a blueprint for other developing countries at risk of the disease, according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO declared Nigeria Ebola-free today after a six-week halt in new cases of the disease that killed seven people in Africa’s most-populous country. Effective contact tracing, swiftly constructed isolation wards and the use of mobile phones helped prevent the virus from taking root in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city and commercial hub, the Geneva-based group said.

Those measures may help other African nations prevent outbreaks of Ebola if the virus shows up within their borders, according to the WHO. The agency this month drew up a checklist for four countries it sees as being at highest risk of Ebola and a further nine that should take steps to prepare for the virus.

“This is a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained,” the WHO said today in a statement. “Many wealthy countries, with outstanding health systems, may have something to learn as well.”

Ebola has infected more than 9,000 people in West Africa, killing about half, according to the WHO.

Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer introduced Ebola to Nigeria in July when he arrived on a flight to Lagos, a city with an estimated 21 million people. In addition to Sawyer, five health workers and the protocol officer who received him at the airport died of Ebola, according to Nigeria’s health ministry.

First Patient

Sawyer, who was visibly ill at the departure airport, vomited in the plane, on arrival and in the car that took him to a hospital, according to the WHO. He told Nigerian health workers he had malaria and denied contact with any Ebola patients. It later transpired that Sawyer’s sister had died of the disease and he had visited her in the hospital, and attended her funeral and burial.

Today’s declaration came 42 days after the last case was discharged, Rui Vaz, the WHO’s country representative for Nigeria, said at a briefing today in the capital, Abuja. Nigerian authorities led a two-month campaign during which contact tracers made 18,500 home visits to more than 800 people who came into contact with infected people in Lagos and the southern oil center of Port Harcourt.

Tracking App

A key reason for Nigeria’s success was that all agencies involved in the anti-Ebola effort worked together, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu told reporters in Abuja. Centralized leadership that coordinated work by border protection authorities, community leaders and academic institutions resulted in a “harmonized response,” Pauline Harvey, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at the briefing.

Contact tracers also used an Android mobile phone application to quickly report symptoms in potential patients they were monitoring and help identify who might get infected next.

“With Ebola, time is very important,” said Adam Thompson, chief executive officer of Santa Ana, California-based eHealth & Information Systems Nigeria, in an earlier interview. The group provided the app and operates in the northern city of Kano, Nigeria. “If there’s a two- or three-day lag in order to get a contact to the list, this could be a problem. The person could be in a different country by that point.”

Faster Reporting

Reporting new symptoms usually takes about 12 hours. The app has almost eliminated that, turning it into a real-time system, said Daniel Tom-Aba, senior data manager at the Ebola Emergency Operation Centre in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

EHealth is exporting its app-loaded mobile phones and other tech-based tools to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the three worst-hit countries in West Africa.

The WHO last week declared Senegal free of Ebola. That country, which borders Guinea, had one patient, who recovered.

(An earlier version of this story misstated the timing of an interview with Adam Thompson.)