Sunday, September 14, 2014

Controversies over the September 22 school resumption date

.     What’s your take on the above issue?

My take on this is that Federal Government should revert to the original October 13, 2014 resumption date. The simple reason being that it will give government adequate time to ensure that all those currently under surveillance for Ebola Virus Disease are all free of the disease and there are no new reported cases. Secondly, it will give government ample time to procure and deploy Ebola screening gadgets for all the public and private primary and secondary schools across the country and train the personnel that will use these gadgets. Thirdly, it will also give sufficient time for schools that do not have water, good toilet facilities, sick bay, first aid kits, sanitisers and so on to provide them ahead of the resumption date.

2.     What’s your advice to the Federal Government?

It is heart-warming that the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu has said that as at Wednesday September 10, 2014 there is no single Ebola patient in the isolation centres in Lagos and Port-Harcourt and that Nigerian government has successfully managed 12 Ebola patients to recovery and with only seven fatalities. He has also said that the fear over the new resumption date is irrational and that there is no community transmission of EVD in Nigeria. However,  over 400 persons are still under surveillance in Lagos and Port-Harcourt while a lady student of ObafemI Awolowo University  who had contact with late Dr. Iyke Enemou who died of EVD in Port Harcourt has shown traces of the disease and  had been evacuated from Ile-Ife to Lagos. Now,  as at the time of addressing press last  Wednesday the outcome of the screening on the lady was yet to be out, should she test positive to EVD, that will cause another scare.

Thus, it is better to err on the side of caution as only the living go to school. Federal Government should heed the concerns of Nigerian Medical Association, Nigerian Union of Teachers, Parent Teachers Association of Nigeria as well as civil society organisations who have called on it to rescind the September 22 resumption date and study the situation for another couple of weeks before collaboratively and jointly with other stakeholders determine a feasible resumption date.

3.     What’ll you tell the private school owners, who had kicked against the one-month shift in resumption?

To the private school proprietors who have been alleged to have mounted pressure on government to cut back resumption date from October 13 to September 22 due to their own pecuniary concern, they need to realise that it is better to be safe than sorry. Should there be an outbreak of EVD in any school, most parents and guardians will withdraw their children and wards from that school and will refuse to bring them back even when such schools might have been decontaminated by health authorities. Even schools in that neighbourhood will be negatively affected as all of them will be stigmatised.   School owners should therefore think less of financial loss they may incur now but rather focus on how to join hands with government to ensure that they assist to provide hygiene and sanitation facilities for their schools and have trained staff that can educate their pupils and students on EVD and make contact with health authorities on any suspected case(s).

On a final note, people should stop stigmatising survivors and suspects of Ebola. It was reported that mortuary attendants at Port Harcourt University Teaching Hospital and their families where the remains of the late Dr. Iyke Enemou was being kept have been ostracised by the community where they live. No-one wants to relate with them nor sell to them over suspicion that they may have contracted the disease. In Lagos, a couple of those who survived the disease have been ejected from their houses and sacked from their jobs. This is inhuman and unhelpful to the fight against EVD as this may cause people with Ebola to deny their status or go underground for private treatment thereby endangering lives of unsuspecting health care providers. This possibly was why Mr. Olu-Ibukun Koye, the ECOWAS staff who took the EVD to Port Harcourt left Lagos to seek medical attention in Rivers State thereby taking the disease there and spreading it to innocent people just like the index case, Patrick Sawyer did on July 20, 2014.

Jide Ojo is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter: @jideojong