Via The Globe and Mail, another good story by Geoffrey York: Ebola: How to stop the disease ‘dead in its tracks’. Excerpt from a long article:
Nigeria’s first Ebola patient, Patrick Sawyer, was initially thought to have malaria. But when malaria treatment failed at a local hospital, doctors immediately began treating him as a possible Ebola patient, and he was kept in isolation at the hospital. Officials were notified and a blood sample was rushed to a testing lab.
On July 23, just three days after Mr. Sawyer arrived in Lagos on an indirect flight from Liberia, the Nigerian health ministry set up an Ebola Incident Management Centre, which evolved into an Emergency Operations Centre to co-ordinate the response and the decision-making.
The centre took over the management of each suspected Ebola case. It investigated every possible case and supervised the decontamination of their homes. Each suspected case was isolated in a special ward of a treatment facility. Blood tests were rapidly conducted to verify if suspected cases were genuine or not.
Senegal, meanwhile, had been well-prepared with an Ebola response plan as early as March. It created a National Crisis Committee as the “nerve centre” for its response, and deployed its emergency plan nationwide in August, even though only a single case had been detected. “The whole country moved into a heightened state of alert,” the WHO said.
A rigorous and relentless system of contact-tracing
Nigerian health teams visited 18,500 homes in Lagos and Port Harcourt, the two cities where Ebola cases were reported, as they searched for anyone who had been in contact with the 20 Ebola patients in the country. More than 150 contact tracers were deployed.
The tracing teams tracked down 894 people who had been in contact with Ebola patients, and began monitoring their health closely. The WHO described it as “world-class epidemiological detective work.” Even mobile-phone data and law-enforcement agencies were employed to trace contacts, using an emergency presidential decree, and airplane manifests were scrutinized. Health workers visited any contact who reported symptoms – or who failed to provide health updates via cellphone text messages.
In Senegal, tracers found 74 close contacts of the country’s sole Ebola patient. The health of each of these 74 people was carefully monitored, twice a day. To encourage their co-operation, the contacts were offered food, money and psychological counselling.
An energetic campaign of public education
In Nigeria, social mobilization teams went house-to-house to visit 26,000 families who lived within two kilometres of the Ebola patients. They explained Ebola’s warning signs and how to prevent the virus from spreading. Leaflets and billboards, in multiple languages, along with social-media messages, were used to educate the broader Nigerian population.
Education was crucial in a country where dangerous myths were spreading. There was even a rumour that drinking large amounts of salt water would protect people from Ebola – a rumour that sickened and even killed some Nigerians who attempted the harmful diet.
Senegal, too, created a national public-awareness campaign, using media experts and local radio networks.