Ebola: Why we must keep our guard

About two weeks ago, at the height of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, a man arrived at Kigali International Airport from Liberia. At the time he showed  no symptoms and was allowed entry into the country. 
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About two weeks ago, at the height of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, a man arrived at Kigali International Airport from Liberia. At the time he showed  no symptoms and was allowed entry into the country.  

Ten days later, he went to the King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, complaining of fever, diarrhea and weakness – all of which are symptoms associated with the Ebola virus.

 

He was later transferred to Rwanda Military Hospital and placed in the isolation unit. Medical personnel interviewed all his contacts while he was tested for Ebola and other diseases.  

 

Forty-eight hours later, the results returned and to the relief of many, the man tested negative for Ebola. All those he came into contact within Rwanda were being closely monitored as well and none of them has since fallen sick. He was, however, found to have Malaria, which was treated.

 

According to the Ministry of Health, a full and steady recovery is expected. He is already showing signs of improvement.

The incident is clear demonstration of how the mechanisms of vigilance and swift action worked perfectly.

The hospitals and authorities dealt with the case appropriately. Anyone who has closely followed the breakout of the virus and how the various countries have handled the epidemic should be encouraged by the efficiency of the Ebola-response crew at the Ministry of Health.

The precautions taken are a sign that the health care system is working and espouse confidence that the authorities have elaborate plans to effectively deal with the disease in the event that it emerges in the country.

Another front in the war against Ebola is information and communication. There is no doubt that a well-informed society is more equipped to deal with the virus rationally.

However, debate has been rife in Rwanda as to whether the Ministry of Health spoke too soon when it shared information about the suspected Ebola case before the tests results had returned.

The argument was that by concealing the incident, the public would never know and therefore have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, the challenge with this reasoning is that people would still get to know.

If a patient has been put in isolation and his immediate contacts are also being monitored, word is going to get around and whatever is going on will be distorted or misrepresented.

And, if there is a gap in information, the rumour mills start rolling and from then on the information that is shared is not only unreliable but can no longer be controlled effectively. When you bring in the power of social media, the damage can be disastrous.

The only way to nip any conspiracy theories in the bud is to provide truthful and up-to-date information on what is going on. This is one of those scenarios where being proactive comes with immense benefits. People trust their leaders if they are open and honest, which is what the Ministry of Health strived to do in this situation.

This case posed no risk to the general public but there was a fair amount of concern and that is why it was imperative to constantly go public with the details as they evolved.

With an incubation period of up to twenty-one days, the need for vigilance is at an all-time high considering that people are constantly travelling. The authorities have done their part to ensure that the health workers and immigration officials are more vigilant in the screening processes.  

There is no confirmed case of Ebola in Rwanda and based on the existing preventive methods, the risk will remain low if we keep our guards up.

The writer is a social commentator

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