When Denis was taken to the isolation ward after losing his wife to Ebola and developing symptoms of the disease, he did not give up hope. He did not even lose hope when he initially tested positive for the disease.
“I do not see Ebola as an automatic death sentence, it’s a virus like other viruses. Though it is deadly, it can be conquered with early supportive treatment,” says Denis, who is a businessman in Lagos. “Even when the laboratory results came back positive at two different times, I still did not lose hope” he says.
He said that the support he received from UNICEF Counselor Terry Howard, who has been providing psycho-social support to Ebola patients and their relatives, was a great help. “It’s important to have somebody to build that confidence in patients”.
Two weeks later, Denis had severe joint pains and was admitted to the isolation ward. “I was already prepared for it,” he says. “I told myself I will walk out of the isolation ward alive”. And he was right. A third test showed he was negative for the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
Denis was of course relieved, but he is also mourning his wife, who had died of Ebola in mid-August. His wife, a nurse, developed symptoms of the disease 14 days after she cared for a patient who was eventually identified as the first Ebola case in Nigeria. Initially, Denis looked after her at home, believing she was suffering from morning sickness as she was two months pregnant.
After she was taken to the isolation ward, Denis donned the same protective personal equipment worn by the clinical team to be with her. “The third time was to confirm to myself that she was truly dead as I was told and to say my good byes”.
While his wife was in the ward, Denis was listed as a “contact” and put under observation. Later, when he too was taken to the ward, he dutifully took his medications, and maintained his routine morning exercises. “I still did my push-ups while in there”.
“This man is a role-model,” says Sara Beysolow Nyanti, who heads UNICEF’s Lagos office and who is also the Team Lead for Management & Coordination in the National Ebola Emergency Operation Center. “His case shows that treatment can work if started early. It is also crucial that anyone who has been in contact with a person infected with EVD should not only undergo medical examination but also submit to a follow-up for 21 days, which is the incubation period for the virus.”
Public understanding of the virus, how it is transmitted and how it can be avoided, is essential in order to strop the spread of EVD. While the number of people affected in Nigeria – there were 18 cases as of September 4 – are far lower than in other affected countries, the government and its development partners are well aware they cannot afford to let their guard down.
UNICEF has been supporting the deployment of social mobilizers going door-to-door to explain how EVD is transmitted, and how simple measures such as proper hand washing can help avoid the disease. Posters and stickers are being posted in buses, taxis, pharmacies, hotels, places of worship, shopping malls and other establishments.
UReport, an interactive platform developed by UNICEF, which allows people to speak out on issues through SMS messaging also is being used. More than 1.5 million messages were sent out to raise awareness about Ebola, dispelling claims of miracle cures and other rumors.
UNICEF is also supporting the government in reaching out to the media and to religious, traditional, trade union, business and other leaders.
The awareness-raising campaigns also aim at battling stigmatization of EVD survivors and their contacts. Denis knows that will be an uphill challenge. “Until I was certified Ebola-free, people wouldn’t even answer my greetings.”
Blessing Ejiofor is a Communication Officer working for UNICEF Nigeria.