“There are not ten people in the world whose deaths would spoil my dinner, but there are one or two whose deaths would break my heart”—Thomas Babinton Macaulay
The death on Tuesday of Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh has broken many hearts, including mine despite the fact that I didn’t even know her. Yes, it is true that some of my friends knew her and have attested to her character, professionalism and commitment to her calling but that is not the reason I consider her passage very painful. It is because of the circumstances of her last few weeks on earth and what she symbolizes in our country today. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I offer my condolences to her family and the management and staff of First Consultant Hospital, Obalende, Lagos.
I was in the United States early this month when two of their citizens who had contracted the Ebola Virus in Liberia (hygienist Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly) were to be flown in for proper medical care. I followed the debate as there were also some Americans (including not surprisingly a certain Donald Trump) who felt that Writebol and Brantly should not be brought to US because of their ailment. But the American authorities, working with the employers of the duo, sent to Liberia a modified Gulfstream III with tent-like structure called aero-medical biological containment system, which allows officials to move highly contagious patients without fear of exposure to pathogens. At the end, the two Ebola Virus victims were flown separately into the Emory University Medical Centre in Atlanta in what must have been a rather expensive medical expedition.
As the debate raged, the prevailing argument was that Americans who were trying to save the lives of others in far-away lands deserve the best treatment they could get in their hours of need. However, to allay the fears of those who were hysterical about “Ebola coming to America”, several precautionary measures were taken but the real message for me was that two American lives were considered important enough for such a national health gamble because of the service they rendered to humanity. Yet I am almost certain that if the lives that the duo were actually trying to save in Liberia were those of their compatriots, there would not have been any debate about whether they should be brought into the US as they would instantly have been treated as heroes. Americans know how to celebrate their own.
It is within that context that I believe both the federal and Lagos State authorities should treat the death of Adadevoh in such a manner as to send a strong statement that as a nation we also stand for some enduring values and that the lives of our professionals who quietly render service in their areas of calling also matter.
Dr. Adadevoh is not the first to die of Ebola in Nigeria. However, her case is different not because of her illustrious family background but rather for her act of courage which prevented what could have been a monumental tragedy in our country. I have heard many people thanking God for two things. One, that Mr Patrick Sawyer, the late Liberian-American who imported Ebola Virus to our country, came to Lagos and not some other states. Two, that he was taken to the First Consultant Hospital where he was confronted by respected professionals who knew their onions and would not buckle, even in the face of provocation as well as pressure from several quarters. The late Dr Adadevoh, a consultant physician at the hospital, was at the head of that resistance against having Sawyer forcefully discharged as his prominent Nigerian friends and the Liberian embassy officials in Lagos desperately canvassed.
“Nigeria would been in a serious disaster now if it were not for the effort of Dr. Adadevoh who insisted that Sawyer would not be allowed to pass through Lagos after he was diagnosed to be carrier of the deadly disease,” said Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu after the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja yesterday. According to the Minister who praised the courage of the late senior medical consultant, “the fact that she (Adadevoh) led the medical team that prevented Sawyer from moving out of Lagos and also to manage him until he died needs to be appreciated.”
We can only imagine what would have happened if Sawyer had been allowed passage to Calabar to mingle with the people or as it is more plausible–given how his health had deteriorated at the time–sneaked “Nicodemously” into Pastor T. B. Joshua’s Synagogue of All Nations in Lagos, as most desperate health seekers from many African countries do. By now, we would have had a harvest of deaths on our hands and the contagion would have been difficult, if not impossible, to manage. What’s more, we may not even be able to locate where it is coming from thus compounding what would ordinarily have been a terrible situation on its own.
By insisting that Sawyer could not leave the hospital until she was certain about his ailment (which eventually confirmed her suspicion) and by alerting the Lagos State Health authorities immediately the Ebola Virus red flag came up, Adadevoh saved many lives even though she ended up losing her own. That is why we must celebrate her but in doing so, we cannot forget Ms Justina Ejelonu and her other nursing colleague who also died as a result of their contacts with Sawyer. It is also important that there be some form of compensation for First Consultants Hospital and all their staff who were unfortunate to have caught the Ebola Virus, including those who survived.
The paradox of our country today is that even while majority of our people are agreed that government has not worked for us, essentially because majority of those who go into public office serve their own interests, most of the people we celebrate when they die are the same officials, including those with notorious records. I believe we should begin to change that paradigm by recognizing those who deployed their talents in promotion of the public good, even if they never made the headlines or occupied any official positions. It is when we begin to inculcate such reward system that we will begin to build a new nation where every citizen would be proud to make his/her own contributions and if necessary the ultimate sacrifice.
That is why we should all condemn the cynical attempt to trivialize a very serious situation with the way some ill-informed government officials publicly display sanitizing wipes they only use for photo ops and drawing clenched fists to greet rather than the traditional handshakes. While these may ordinarily be considered safety habits in times like this, the comical manner in which the gestures are done for camera suggests that these officials do not appreciate the gravity of the situation confronting the nation. That we have an emergency health situation on our hands is without any doubt and it is nothing but sheer irresponsibility for Ebola to become another subject of joke in official quarters, especially at a time the World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning that the situation might be getting out of hand.
As I stated last week, both the federal and the Lagos authorities deserve commendation for the manner in which they have handled the Ebola Virus matter and I give kudos to the Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu who has distinguished himself at this most critical period in our nation. However, the challenge of the moment is to remove the stigma element from those who are unfortunate to have caught the bug. And I see no better way of doing that than by celebrating the lives of our health professionals who have died as a result of their contacts with Sawyer with Dr. Adadevoh as the leading icon. We must also stand by those who survive (albeit with emotional and psychological scars that may take years to heal) so they would know that they are not alone. That is the only way we can prove to the world that we are a compassionate and decent society.