Of the visiting survivors, three of them – Dr. Morris Ibeawuchi, Dr. Adaora Igonoh and Dr. Akinniyi Fadipe – are medical practitioners with the First Consultants Medical Centre, the Lagos-based hospital that treated the index case, the late Patrick Sawyer, who imported the virus into Nigeria from his home country, Liberia.
The two others were Mr. Dennis Echelonu, who lost his two-month pregnant wife Mrs. Justina Echelonu Obioma to the virus and Mrs. Kelechi Enemuo, whose husband died from the disease in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.Recounting his experience, Ibeawuchi acknowledged that he was the doctor, who received the index case, Sawyer, when ECOWAS officials brought him to First Consultants. He said:
“I was the person who received Patrick Sawyer the day he was rushed to First Consultants Medical Centre. It was like a joke, I did not know what came upon me that day. Unlike me, I was so reluctant to attend to him. But I was compelled by my colleagues to do so.When I got there, I was just talking to him. It was very unlike me. Being a doctor, you must examine your patient. After due examination, I asked him some questions.
But Patrick Sawyer lied to me. Even the ECOWAS protocol officer who sat there, kept quiet.I asked him why he was in First Consultants. He lied to me saying that he was at a conference and felt so weak. As a result, people now rushed him to First Consultants not knowing that he had collapsed at the airport. On that very day, the ECOWAS protocol officer was there and did not say anything.”
In his account, Fadipe explained how everyone was running helter-skelter when the index case was recorded, telling himself that he only had contact with the door to Sawyer’s private ward. He said:
“By virtue of that, nothing should happen to me, I told myself. I never knew I was deceiving myself. Until the day I took my temperature and there was a kind of spike, and I asked myself what is going on. Since I had treated malaria a while ago, I told myself that it could be malaria. I used anti-malaria drugs, but nothing changed. Rather, it was getting worse. Eventually, I went to a private hospital to treat myself because I did not want to admit it was Ebola.
I felt they would be able to proffer solutions to all my problems but it wasn’t to be so. Rather, it got worse and I started stooling and vomiting. So I summoned the courage and called the doctors at the monitoring units that my temperature had been persistently high. ”When he informed the Lagos State Ministry of Health about his health, he was informed not to bother, as they would come to pick him up.
“In four hours, they came with ambulances. Before I knew it, I found myself at the isolation centre, Yaba. It all happened like a dream because I had read a lot about Ebola even while in school. We had learnt a lot of things on the hemorrhagic virus. How it wreaks direct havoc on human beings, bleeding and all that. You continue to bleed until you are dead, so I was devastated, “he added.
Fashola, who called for a minute’s silence for those who lost their lives to Ebola, commended the courage of the survivors by coming out in public to share their experience and damning possible stigmatization.
“We sympathise with you for the trauma that you went though. Perhaps it was avoidable. But I am sure that hard lessons have been learnt. Beyond that, I must congratulate you the survivors of EDV.
“I felicitate with you and members of your family and friends. But most importantly, I thank you so much for coming forward because you took a great decision and you showed so much courage. And you have helped us to take the next step forward. You have helped us to put an end to the spread of the EVD.
“I am sure that from today, people, especially those who are victims wherever they maybe, will be encouraged to come forward and seek help. And that people who stigmatise them can change their approach.
Sick people need help, care, love and affection. They did not need to be discriminated against. Perhaps many of those who stigmatise people with diseases will learn from the testimonies that you have given about people like Dr. David (the American WHO doctor who led the medical team at the Yaba isolation centre).
He risked everything so that you all can be alive. That is the way we should behave as human beings. The truth is that this will not be the last infectious disease that human civilisation will experience. At one point, there was no cure for cholera, influenza and others.
So in a global world, the list will not end. It is courageous men and women like Dr. David, organisations like the CDC (US Centre for Disease Control) and WHO, the Ministry of Health and health workers like you who must lead that charge to confront such diseases.”