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Researchers looking to Nigeria for tech to suppress Ebola

October 20, 2014 • Features, Top Stories, West Africa

Lagos Nigeria

On August 8, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan declared a national emergency. In response, health officials distributed informational leaflets and posted billboards in multiple local languages to educate Nigerian citizens on preventive measures and virus symptoms. (Image Source: http://worldccp.com).

According to reports, following new cases of the Ebola virus in Spain, researchers are looking to Nigeria’s utilisation of 21st Century technology to study exactly how Africa’s most populous country was able to contain the deadly disease.

The Ebola outbreak hit Nigeria in July when Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American, flew into Lagos plagued by the virus, contagious and nearing his last days. The initial outbreak fueled health officials’ concern about the country’s ability to control the virus. After all, Lagos is Africa’s largest city and a major transportation hub.

On August 8, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan declared a national emergency. In response, health officials distributed informational leaflets and posted billboards in multiple local languages to educate Nigerian citizens on preventive measures and virus symptoms. Health officials immediately understood their main priority was to track any individual that came into contact with the index case. Officials placed Sawyer in isolation and started tracking down every person he had recently come in contact with.

According to News Agency of Nigeria, all who came in contact with Sawyer – more than 280 residents – were required to provide Nigerian authorities with updates twice-a-day about their current health status. Individuals who displayed symptoms or failed to respond were checked on by a neighborhood network or health workers. In total, contact officials made more than 18,500 home visits to the potentially exposed.

Through all of this, Nigeria focused on technology as a critical and proactive tool to help combat the spread of the virus. Health workers monitoring suspected cases armed themselves with mobile phones and an Android application that helped reduce reporting time, which can normally take up to 12 hours. The technology decreased reporting time to six hours before being reduced to almost nothing.

The app and phones that made the real-time updates possible were provided by eHealth and Information Systems Nigeria, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based non-profit research company that operates in the northern Nigerian city of Kano. A group of volunteers partnered with the government and created Ebola Alert, which used Facebook and Twitter to educate Nigerians about the illness. Google Inc.’s Nigerian unit organised training sessions for journalists on how to use Google Trends to identify the top questions the public had about the disease.

Laboratory technicians conducting tests were also given tablets to scan and upload results to the emergency center data base. In turn, field teams received text-message alerts on their phones informing them of the results immediately.

Tom Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has publicly stated Nigeria’s “extensive response to a single case of Ebola shows that control is possible with rapid, focused interventions.” Dr. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), personally congratulated President Jonathan on the successful containment of the Ebola Virus Disease in the country and for effectively halting transmission of poliomyelitis.

After more than two months of closely monitoring the situation, Nigerian health officials are confident the virus has been contained. The Nigerian government remains strongly committed to providing guidance and expertise to other countries that are battling the virus.

Staff Writer

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