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Nigeria: Six Years After, Nigeria Yet to Honour Medic Who Saved Country From Ebola

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Just as it is currently struggling to curb the spread of COVID-19, Nigeria, at about this period in 2014, was battling a different outbreak – Ebola, a highly deadly disease, with a fatality rate of roughly 50 per cent.

While COVID-19, a pneumonia-like disease has so far infected nearly 50,000 people in Nigeria, killing almost 1,000, the spread of Ebola in Africa’s most populous country was limited to less than 20 people and eight fatalities.

The near excellent containment of the deadly Ebola incursion in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, would not be possible if not for a team of health workers. However, it came at a heavy cost.

Exactly six years ago, on August 19, 2014, Ameyo Stella Adedavoh, passed on. She was the physician who discovered that a Liberian, Patrick Sawyer, who arrived in Nigeria via the Lagos airport, was infected with Ebola.

Mrs Adedavoh, then 57, and four of her colleagues – Amos Abaniwo, a doctor; Justina Ejelonu, a nurse; and Evelyn Uko, a nurse aide – died after contracting the disease while trying to treat Mr Sawyer and prevent the disease from spreading further.

Mr Sawyer, an American-Liberian lawyer, had collapsed upon arrival at Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos. It was in late July, 2014.

He was taken to First Consultant Hospital in Obalende, where Mrs Adadevoh, was working as a Lead Consultant Physician and Endocrinologist.

She was not a virology or public-health expert but her sharp diagnosis identified Nigeria’s first case of the virus – then 40-year-old Mr Sawyer.

She prevented him from leaving the facility.

When threatened by Liberian officials who wanted the patient to be discharged to attend a conference in Calabar and later by the patient who was also suffering from ‘Ebola denial’, the physician resisted, saying, “for the greater public good” she would not release him.

Her bravery came at a mortal price.

She contracted Ebola alongside three of her colleagues and on August 19, nearly a month after Mr Sawyer’s death, she died. She was one of eight people that had primary contact with the Liberian.

Before Nigeria was declared Ebola-free on October 20, 2014, there were a total of 19 cases and 11 survivors.

Local and international health officials and responders made a total of 894 identified contacts in the affected states of Lagos, Rivers, and Enugu. They also made an estimated 18,500 face-to-face contact visits.

While Mr Sawyer went down memory lane as the harbinger of Ebola in the West African nation, Ms Adadevoh is remembered as an Ebola heroine.

The late medic and her colleagues were eulogized home and abroad for their heroics at the time.

She received several local and international awards posthumously including the 2018 ECOWAS Prize of Excellence alongside former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.

No Remembrance

But as time went by, the heroic act of Mrs Adadevoh and her colleagues seem to have become blurry in the minds of many Nigerians.

Her remembrance has continued to be low-key or non-existent and Thursday was no exception.

It is believed by many that the late physician will not be fully honoured if she does not receive any of Nigeria’s national honours.

There have been calls for Mrs Adadevoh to be immortalised. In June 2018, the clamour received a boost after President Muhammadu Buhari conferred posthumous national honours on late Moshood Abiola, winner of the annulled 1993 general elections and late Gani Fawehinmi, a rights advocate.

PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the president’s move reignited the protracted debate on whether national awards can be conferred on a dead Nigerian.

Evidently, the National Honours Act (PDF) is silent on whether or not the national honours could be bestowed on a deceased citizen.

The law states that a fallen member of the armed forces could be posthumously awarded a medal for “pre-eminent act of valor or self-sacrifice in the presence of the enemy, or for devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy,” but was silent on the national honours, which are civilian honours different from medals.

Amid the legal conundrum, Mr Buhari’s action gave credence to the push for Mrs Adadevoh.

Movement for Adadevoh

During last year’s remembrance, the Guild of Medical Directors of Nigeria said the Nigerian government should declare August 19 each year a national holiday in memory of the deceased.

Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher of PREMIUM TIMES, called for a national honour for late Adadevoh at the 2019 National Health Dialogue, an event this newspaper organised to find ways to bridge the funding gaps in Nigeria’s quest for Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Mr Olorunyonmi said an online petition was created to galvanise momentum for the call.

The petition was created by the Centre for Impact Advocacy via Change.org, a petition website which claims to have over 240 million users and hosts sponsored campaigns for organisations.

Peter Nkanga, the convener, said each time a Nigerian signs the petition, it is sent directly to the emails of the presidency and the principal officers of the National Assembly.

He described the petition as a living document that will continue to be a blight on the government “until they heed to the call.”

Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, Mr Nkanga, a journalist, said his position has not changed.

“This APC government led by President Buhari does not believe that late Dr Adadevoh and her medical team who died to save Nigeria from the Ebola pandemic in 2014 is deserving of a National Honour. Fact.

“Lai Mohammed proved this himself during an interview at the University of Cambridge in the UK in June 2018, when he said the Nigerian government would only confer a National Honour on Dr Adadevoh “if” she is deserving.

“So if six years after her sacrifice for the nation, she has not been conferred her due national recognition, it is because the Nigerian government does not see Dr Adadevoh as deserving of the highest National Honour in the country. And this is clearly contrary to popular general public opinion.”

‘Amayo Adadevoh way’

Mr Nkanga also said that a street named after the late medic in Abuja earlier this year is yet to be commissioned.

This newspaper reported how authorities in Abuja announced plans to commission a street named after Mrs Adadevoh.

The Cable had reported how a Twitter user shared the pictures of the signpost to the road, along Ahmadu Bello Way, close to the Nigerian Air Force Conference Centre.

But Magaji Galadima, the director of urban affairs department of the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC) said the honour is yet to be officially unveiled.

The official whose office is directly responsible for street and road naming in the federal capital said the trending signpost showing ‘Ameyo Adadevoh way’ “preempted plans for an official unveiling ceremony.”

In the southwestern corner of the Nigerian Air Force conference centre lies Amayo Adadevoh way – tucked inside the Jahi district.

“That road is like any other road in Abuja, that Nigerians in other parts of the country will possibly never know exists for the rest of their existence,” Mr Nkanga added.

“So these pieces of evidence are proof that this APC government does not hold in esteem the sacrifice of Dr Adadevoh and her medical team for Nigeria.

“And that is the shame this government will keep carrying year-in, year-out, until a time that whichever government is in power does the right thing to give due honour to whom it is due.”

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