The Lagos State Government has declared its intention to prosecute any person, group or organization that stigmatizes a patient who has been treated of the disease and duly discharged.
Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, who made Government’s intention known while giving an update on the EVD in the State at the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre, Alausa, directed any concerned person who has experienced stigmatization to petition the Attorney-General of the State from where the Government would take up the case.
Noting that there have been one or two cases of such stigmatization in the State, the Commissioner named such cases as eviction of contacts or treated patients from their places of accommodation, such persons being asked to stay away from work or outright termination of employment of such persons.
He reiterated that infection by Ebola Virus Disease is not a death sentence and appealed to members of the public, including employers of labour, to desist from stigmatizing persons or laying off their workers who either have been treated and given a clean bill of health or are contacts under surveillance describing the action as unfair and an infringement on their fundamental right to freedom of association and employment.
According to the Commissioner, “Stigmatization may further make contacts and suspects to go underground. This may bring about the reversal of the gains we have already made; because such contacts and suspects may not come out and if they don’t come out, they jeopardize the life of those they come in contact with, including their families”.
“We want to emphasize that the Ministry of Justice will take up any case of stigmatization. Anybody, either a discharged patient or a contact being followed up, who feels any form of stigmatization, should petition the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney-General and we will take it up from there”, he said.
Dr. Idris also advised all contacts or suspected cases to adhere to instructions of the medical task force team, especially the instruction not to travel out of their locations, in order to facilitate easy surveillance adding that there is need for suspected cases to come out in time in order to enhance their chances of survival and cure.
He said even where the contact is not symptomatic, there was need for him to report himself in the overall interest of the general public pointing out that such contacts are given specific instructions as to what to do and how to comport themselves to ensure that they are free from the virus.
“If they say, ‘don’t move out of this environment’, it is better you remain there. Listen and follow instructions and information given to such people, take your temperature twice a day and if there is any symptom which normally starts with fever and temperature of above 38.5 degrees Celsius, let us know and we will take appropriate action”, the Commissioner said.
He explained further, “If you are asked not to leave the environment where you live, please obey the instruction; because if you leave, we may not be able to trace you properly and if you become symptomatic we may not be able to reach you in time for appropriate treatment”.
Reiterating that a contact becomes infective only when the symptoms appear, such as high fever, which he described as “the game changer”, Dr. Idris said only symptomatic contacts are admitted and they are quarantined or isolated only when the index of suspicion is very high.
He declared that the containment of EVD is a shared responsibility by all citizens of Lagos State and Nigeria adding that consideration was now being given to requesting all those under surveillance to endorse formal correspondence which will commit them to geographical location restrictions till they are cleared.
The Commissioner explained that the decision to make such people sign a formal correspondent to commit themselves to obeying instructions while under surveillance was informed by the need to avoid the incident that led to the spread of the virus to Port Harcourt which, according to him, was as a result of disobedience to instructions.
While enjoining all such contact cases to obey all instructions, especially avoiding travels out of the State while under surveillance and to report to the rapid response team if they manifest any of the symptoms, the Commissioner also appealed to Lagosians to report such cases of contacts wanting to embark on what he described as “dastardly and heinous misadventure”.
“Having gone this far in the implementation of our containment measures, all hands must be on deck to ensure that we go the whole stretch after the last case is achieved in a timely fashion”, Idris said adding that Government has also had serious meetings with mortuary attendants giving them protocols on how to handle corpses of suspected EVD victims.
He said Government has also continued the process of contact tracing as a major aspect of containment of the EVD adding that out of the 366 contacts recorded since the arrival of the diseases on the shores of Lagos, only 19, representing about five percent of the number, are yet to be cleared.
“In other words, we have cleared 347 who have tested negative after 21 days and are, therefore, free of the virus”, he said adding that the number of deaths remained five while nine confirmed cases have been cleared and discharged
The Commissioner paid tribute to the First Consultant Hospital, Obalende, which alerted the State Government on the first possible case of EVD in the State on Tuesday July 22, 2014, adding that the critical success recorded in the management of the outbreak so far was attributable to the “patriotic and professional call to duty”.
“First Consultant Hospital, Obalende, has been successfully decontaminated in line with the World Health Organization International Health regulations and has since been issued a certificate by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of Health to reopen for business”, he said and urged patrons of the facility to continue to patronize it as a flagship medical facility in the State.