People here are shaking hands again, kissing, hugging, touching. These days, shops are open, people are working, and children are finally going back to school.
That’s because Nigeria — Africa’s most populous country — is officially Ebola-free, the health ministry said, even as the deadly virus rages on in neighboring countries, where lockdowns and quarantines are common and death rates are rising.
As the United States and Spain deal with their first diagnosed cases of Ebola and fears that the virus could spread, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending researchers to Lagos to study how Nigeria was able to contain the disease. No new cases have been reported there since Aug. 31, the CDC said.
Nigeria’s “extensive response to a single case of Ebola shows that control is possible with rapid, focused interventions,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said.
Christine Afafa, 27, a mother of two in Lagos, said it was impossible for her to imagine her country could win the fight against Ebola so quickly. She said it’s a relief to get back to normal, with schools starting this week.
“We’re very happy as parents to take our children back to school after a long break,” Afafa said. “Our confidence has now been restored. We are free to allow our children to interact with others again.”
Nigeria was hit with Ebola after Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-born American, brought the deadly virus to Lagos when he flew there on July 20. Since the country was already on alert for the virus, health officials acted quickly and determined that he came into contact with 59 people while at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport and at the hospital.
The government immediately imposed strict measures to quarantine those who were ill and to screen thousands of their contacts around the densely populated Lagos.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a national emergency, closed schools and set about tracing who had been in contact with those infected. Also, the government distributed leaflets and put up billboards in multiple local languages to educate the public on preventive measures and symptoms of the Ebola virus.
The government even advised people to use ashes to clean their hands, for those who couldn’t afford to buy soap.
“This is how we won the fight against Ebola virus,” said Commissioner for Health Jide Idris. “We swiftly worked together as a country when we discovered cases of the virus. The people of Nigeria were very cooperative. They followed the instructions that were given.”
Nigerians are still warned to remain vigilant about the illness and to take preventative measures. Despite the warnings, the mood on the streets of Lagos was joyous at what seems a return to normal life.
“It was difficult even to meet your close relatives and friends due to fear of contacting Ebola virus,” said Dan Adeboye, 45, who resumed his work shining shoes last week. “But now we can talk and do our work without fear.”
The Ebola virus continues to wreak havoc in neighboring Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The World Health Organization said there are now more than 8,000 cases of people infected with the Ebola virus since the outbreak began five months ago. About half that number have died from the disease.
In Liberia, the hardest-hit country, the situation has worsened despite government efforts to quarantine victims and to spread awareness about the disease and prevention measures.
“We are like people who are in prison without freedom and food to eat,” said Judith Hawah, a parent of three in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. “You can’t just move anywhere to look for food because of fear of Ebola.”
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SOURCE: USA Today
Ameen Auwalii, Alpha Kamara