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Stella Adadevoh: 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.

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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).

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