This past week, Nigeria had its moment in the sun as the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared it ‘Ebola-free’. It was a journey that took us three months to complete. It also set us back financially. But more importantly and most painfully, we lost some of our wonderful citizens and health professionals. No need to brood over the fact that the virus was not autochthonous to Nigeria, but came from you-know-where and who. Let’s just allow ebola-gones be ebola-gones.
Let’s look at all the sides of that unfortunate incident and the nearly three-month long stress and fear we collectively went through as a country. It even led to panic measures such as the laughable bitter kola and the salt water therapies which also caused us international embarrassment. Of course, many people also made a tidy treasure of the situation in the sale of personal hygiene products at exorbitant prices.
On a brighter side, though, the situation brought us changed and more hygienic lifestyles. We learned not to take chances about a lot of things. Hand-washing became central to every gathering and hand sanitisers became new-found partners to many people. I observe that those little bottles of hand sanitisers have increasingly pushed out the bottles of ‘anointing oil’ often carried by some people like amulets.
Our victory over Ebola did not come easy. We even shut down our schools until we were properly prepared to handle students. Today in many schools, there are preventive measures taken against Ebola and other infections. And our children, whom we worried about more, are gradually becoming hygiene ambassadors, reminding others to wash their hands and use sanitisers regularly. I even hear there is an Ebola awareness anthem in one of the states. That’s the power of a campaign that targets everyone.
But we must recall the initial panic, where, as usual, we thought the solution necessarily lay outside Nigeria. I remember the desperation with which we went begging the United States for the use of a trial drug it kept close to its chest. And when we were denied, many citizens thought we were on the road to more suffering, while accusing the U.S. of double standards.
Talking about not just the U.S. but the Western world, the outbreak of Ebola also helped to unravel a few things about them. When the Ebola virus broke out in Nigeria, many citizens opined that we should stop flights from countries with high incidence of the virus or even close our borders to them. But a particular advisory supposedly from the Center for Diseases Control (CDC) of the U.S., quoted by some U.S. agencies, said it was unnecessary to do so as infection of co-passengers was very slim.
Fast forward to October (just three months after), with infections recorded in U.S. and a few Western countries, the attitude seems to have changed. Now flights from the ‘country’ they call Africa are held in suspicion. During the week, I had to call attention of online respondents on a U.S. news website that there are 54 countries in Africa and that even if three countries therein had cases of Ebola, it was no reason to stigmatise people from the entire continent. Apparently, the attitude of the West stemmed from more than double standards, but more about ignorance of geography. After all, didn’t the renowned Cable News Network (CNN) publish a West African map designating Nigeria where Niger is?
Well, it’s good to know that Ebola is out of the way now. We all deserve to share in the pride, just as we were together in the fear, panic and even stigmatisation while it lasted. The point must be made again that our sense of hygiene and attention to health issues has been the better for it after the dark cloud.
But we shouldn’t forget the sacrifices of our compatriots who went down with Ebola for the rest of us to stay safe. Neither should we forget the lessons and new lifestyle we imbibed during that sad period. We should sustain the tempo and remain alert. One fact we must acknowledge and work on is that if we came together to defeat Ebola, there are lots of other things we can come together to also fight and conquer. How about corruption? How about terrorism?