The new coronavirus was introduced to Nigeria on February 25, 2020, by an Italian engineer traveling from Milan (a European center of the virus outbreak) via Istanbul to Lagos on Turkish Airlines. After an overnight stay in a Lagos hotel, he proceeded to his place of employment, a cement factory in Ogun state. Federal and state authorities have moved quickly to quarantine him and to trace all of those with whom he had come into contact, including is 156 fellow airline passengers. Screening procedures were established at ports of entry, and the Federal government is moving to make testing for the disease free. The media is carrying public health announcements, such as the need for hand-washing. The Italian is reported to be in stable condition and there are no reported deaths from the disease in Nigeria. Nigeria’s Ebola response in 2014 may be instructive for how it responds to coronavirus today.
Ebola was introduced into Nigeria in 2014 by a foreigner (a Liberian-American living in Minnesota) traveling from Liberia, an infected region, to Lagos, where he died at a hospital. In the aftermath, the Lagos state ministry of health and the Federal ministry of health moved quickly to screen travelers for Ebola, to quarantine those who were ill, and to trace their contacts. By the time the disease had run its course, there were a total of twenty cases of Ebola in Nigeria and eight deaths, a tiny fraction of the total West African victims. The containment of Ebola in one of the world’s largest cities with a weak medical infrastructure was an exceptional achievement of which the Lagos state and the Federal health authorities justifiably are proud. Ebola also provided practice and a template for responding to coronavirus.
There are significant differences between the two diseases. Ebola is much the more lethal, it appears to have a shorter duration, and those infected are easier to identify. Coronavirus is much less lethal, can be asymptomatic, and its victims are harder to identify before the illness is obvious. So, coronavirus may pose a greater public health challenge, even if it is significantly less lethal than Ebola. Nevertheless, Nigeria appears to be taking the right steps to respond to coronavirus, building on lessons learned from the 2014 Ebola response. In the case of Ebola and, thus far, coronavirus, the number of those testing positive has been tiny. No doubt the small number has facilitated the official response to the disease. In either case, however, very large numbers of victims could, indeed, have overwhelmed Nigerian medical facilities.