Lagos: Authorities in Lagos appealed on Saturday for volunteers to help fight an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in this Nigerian megacity of over 20 million people after admitting they lacked medical personnel.
“We have a shortage of personnel. I won’t lie about that. And that is why we are asking for volunteers,” Lagos state health commissioner, Jide Idris, said on a live television programme.
The state of Lagos, which is home to Nigeria’s largest city, has recorded nine confirmed cases of Ebola, including two deaths.
In its fight against the spread of the virus, Idris said that the state government was offering incentives to medical volunteers, including life insurance.
It is unclear if public sector doctors have resumed work across the country after the president of their union on Thursday announced the suspension of their pay strike that began on July 1.
In the capital Abuja on Friday, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan declared efforts to control and contain Ebola in Nigeria a national emergency, his office said in a statement.
He also approved the immediate release of 1.9 billion naira (Dh42.6 million) to fund measures against the spread of the virus.
Among measures to be undertaken include setting up additional centres to isolate people with the virus, screening at the borders, tracing people exposed to the virus, and boosting public awareness.
A patient back from Nigeria who showed symptoms of fever and flu — possible signs of Ebola — was put in isolation in a Toronto-area hospital, Canadian health officials said late on Friday.
Nigeria is one of several countries in West Africa that has had confirmed cases of Ebola, in the world’s largest ever outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic fever that has seen 961 deaths and nearly 1,800 people infected since the beginning of the year.
The unnamed male patient was being treated at the William Osler Health System’s Brampton Civic Hospital in a suburb of Toronto.
“As a precautionary measure, Osler put in heightened infection control measures in the emergency department including isolating the patient,” the hospital said in a statement.
Hospital doctors “are working closely” with public health officials “to confirm a diagnosis.”
In addition to quarantining the patient, the hospital said it enacted other strict precautionary measures.
“To date, there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Ontario and the risk to Ontarians remains very low,” said Graham Pollett, the province’s Interim Chief Medical Officer of Health.
He also said that Ontario’s health-care system “is prepared to respond should an individual arrive with symptoms that could suggest a disease, such as Ebola.”
He cautioned that initial Ebola symptoms “are similar to many more common diseases,” adding that health-care providers “have been advised to be on heightened alert for Ebola cases.”
Another senior Ontario health official, Eric Hoskins, said in a statement that with the “experience and lessons learned from the Sars epidemic, our hospitals have sophisticated infection control systems and procedures ... and are fully equipped to deal with any potential cases of Ebola.”
The worst affected countries so far have been Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, but Nigeria has also had nine confirmed cases of Ebola so far.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Friday declared a national emergency several hours after the World Health Organisation called the epidemic a global health crisis.
Meanwhile, US health authorities said on Friday they are sending extra personnel and resources to Nigeria, which has declared a national emergency as it battles a deadly outbreak of Ebola for the first time.
“We are starting to ramp up our staffing in Lagos,” US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Tom Skinner said.
“We are really concerned about Lagos and the potential for spread there, given the fact that Lagos — and Nigeria for that matter — has never seen Ebola.”
The US development agency Usaid also announced a $12-million (Dh44 million) boost in aid to help curb the outbreak in West Africa. The funding will be used to support CDC experts and Red Cross campaigns in affected countries and to send equipment, including 105,000 sets of protective gear for health workers.
Earlier this week, the CDC issued an all-hands alert that allows the agency to direct more funding and staff to the crisis.
CDC chief Tom Frieden told lawmakers on Thursday that the agency already has 200 staff working on Ebola response, planned to “increase that number substantially.”
At the same hearing before a House subcommittee, Ken Isaacs of the Christian aid group Samaritan’s Purse warned that the situation in Nigeria was likely to worsen.
“Our epidemiologists believe that what we are going to see is a spike in the disease in Nigeria,” said Isaacs, vice president of programmes and government relations.
“It will go quiet for about three weeks and when it comes out, it will come out with a fury.”
The incubation period of Ebola is 21 days, meaning it can take that long between initial exposure to the virus and the appearance of symptoms.
People become contagious as soon as they begin exhibiting symptoms, which include fever, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhoea, and sometimes bleeding.
Ebola first emerged in 1976, and there are no treatments or vaccines on the market. A pair of American missionaries who fell ill with Ebola while treating patients in Liberia were given an experimental serum.
Their health has improved, though experts say it is unclear if the medication is the reason.
Kent Brantly, 33, and Nancy Writebol, 60, were flown out of Liberia and are now being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for his mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease,” Brantly wrote from his isolation unit Friday.
“I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them. I witnessed the horror firsthand, and I can still remember every face and name.”