How Nigeria stopped Ebola in its tracks

Centralized strategy was integral to containment

It's been one month since the last case of Ebola was discharged from a Nigerian treatment center. In a recent interview with The Atlantic's Tim Fernholz, Nigerian public health expert Faisal Shuaib explained how the country was able to contain the outbreak.

Shuaib is a physician and works for the Nigerian Health Ministry as the deputy incident manager of the country's polio eradication program, which is supported by the Gates Foundation and transferred $50 million to support an anti-Ebola campaign.

He says that when the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in Liberia, the Nigerian government immediately declared a public health emergency and began a "war-like approach" to combatting the disease.

First, he says, government officials from Nigeria's Emergency Operations Center sat down with representatives from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, CDC, Doctors Without Borders, and the Red Cross to "do joint planning, agree on strategies to be used, and implement these strategies based on a clear understanding that people are comfortable to deliver on specific tasks."

The group developed four teams:

  • A point-of-entry team to monitor and screen passengers entering and departing the country;
  • An information dissemination team;
  • A case-management team; and
  • A contact-tracing group to ensure people who had come in contact with Ebola-stricken individuals were tracked down and monitored.

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After the last case, the team followed up with at least 900 contacts until they exited the period when they could begin to show symptoms. In addition, officials have continued to monitor all health facilities and communities for any incidents, and they will do so until 42 days have passed since the last person was discharged from the hospital—equivalent to two incubation periods.

Shuaib says, "We feel pretty confident that we've got a handle on this... [but] [w]e are not letting our guard down, we are not under any illusion whatsoever that we don't continue to remain at risk as long as we continue to have an outbreak in the West African sub-region."

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For countries currently battling an outbreak, Shuaib recommends "rapidly counterattack[ing] information because panic and fear tends to decrease the chances of people reporting to the health facilities." In addition, he says organizations from various countries must come together and pool their resources as quickly as possible and conduct training exercises to prepare workers (Fernholz, The Atlantic, 10/10).

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