From Uzonna Ononye, Lagos
Over the weekend leading to Monday, October 20, everyone waited with bated breath the pronouncement from the World Health Organisation on Nigeria’s Ebola status. So when it came before 12noon declaring the country Ebola free, joy and relief was the immediate response from several quarters. The country-wide gladness sliced into insignificance the block of propaganda over who should take credit for the fit between the federal government and the state government. But while the argument lasted, no mention was made of the institution that gave its all.
This is a hospital that denied the Liberian Patrick Sawyer the liberty of killing as many Nigerians as he desired with the virus he imported into the country. Yes, the management of First Consultant Hospital led by the Chief Medical Director, Dr. Benjamin Ohiaeri was quite aware of the cost. They knew the risk they were exposing themselves to, yet they went all the way. Out of eight Nigerians that died of the Ebola disease, four were staff of the hospital.
Dr. Stella Adadevoh who apart from being a consultant follows the CMD in ranking had worked with the hospital for 21 years. Dr. Ohiaeri told me that she raised an alarm the moment she suspected that Patrick Sawyer was having an ailment more than just malaria. She knew the danger when the Liberian began to behave awkwardly, like someone on a mass killing mission, he sprayed his body fluid everywhere including on those attending to him but she did not yield to pressure to discharge the patient. The intervention spiced with threats from the Liberian Ambassador to Nigeria could not depreciate her commitment to the greater good of all.
Dr. Amos Abaniwo, the third in the managerial tripod had been with First Consultant for 16 years. On one occasion when Patrick Sawyer became uncontrollable, Dr. Abaniwo very much informed of the danger, put himself in the line and went in to rescue Dr. Adadevoh. That was how he picked up the virus and could not make it through. He died leaving his wife and children.
Perhaps Evelyn Uko’s story is more touching. She was a nurse in the hospital for 32 years. She it was, who nursed young Dr. Adadevoh when she came to have her baby in the hospital. Nurse Uko lost her husband two years ago. Her commitment to duty meant that she was assigned to manage a critical case as that of the messenger of death, Patrick Sawyer. She contacted the virus and died. As soon as her death was announced, her landlord turned her children homeless.
Justina Ejelonu just joined the hospital a few days behind. She was planning her wedding and was already two months pregnant. Patrick Sawyer did not spare her. Her light went off, flickers of the unborn baby extinquished trying to keep that of others glowing.
When the door of that room where the demon laid to death was thrown open by my tour guide, I took a deep breath while realizing that all the items in the room are new. I was told that all the equipment in the room and the emergency room were removed and insulated. The entire laboratory equipment was changed and then the plumbing system pulled out and replace with new one. That is part of the cost, the price the hospital had to pay. And I heard myself asking no one, “but should they go through all this alone?”
I visited the hospital on appointment to meet with Dr. Ohiaeri on a Saturday at 1pm. I arrived at 12.45pm and waited till 1.55pm before I could meet with him. The reason was simple; Dr. Ohiaeri is now bearing the burden of three people all alone. He could not keep about a dozen patients waiting for attention to speak with a nosy newsman. In addition to medical consultations, dependants of his late colleagues have several pressing needs that must be met.
The survivors; the only place where they are recognized and accepted is within the walls of the hospital facility in Obalende area of Lagos. So in addition to sustaining them, the management of the hospital is grappling with the challenge of keep a psychologically stable work force. I recall that a few colleagues and friends who knew of my visit to the hospital took their time before giving or receiving a hand shake from me. That was even after the World Health Organisation has declared the country free of Ebola virus. What these survivors are facing can only be imagined.
Their plight is indirectly endorsed by government silence and apathy. I was told by Dr. Ohiaeri that up till the time the former minister of health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu resigned to pursue politics, he never visited the hospital, never met with the doctors and the medical team which had the first hand experience of identifying and managing the virus nor met with the survivors despite the fact that he frequents Lagos to grant press interviews and appear on TV programmes. What was more important to the minister was being the one speaking to the international media. He cherished the limelight and pleasure of announcing figures he hardly knew how they were generated.
While the US President was hosting the surviving nurse in the White House, our President and Minister of Health were busy explaining how the federal government took the lead and not the Lagos state government in combating ebola.
While the integration of the survivor in America was engineered and endorsed through a presidential hug, those who fought and came out victorious in Nigeria are not even known by name to the authorities. What seemed more important to the Minister of Health and the Presidency is vein glory; claiming what does not realistically belong to them. That was the impression I left First Consultant Hospital with.
My real worry is that how this issue is handled will determine whether or not anyone will be ready to make future sacrifice for the good of all. If First Consultant Hospital is allowed to suffer to death for preserving the life of the entire country, what motivation will any other person or institution have in going the extra mile even when life is at stake?