Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Nigeria, Ebola Threat Tests the Rhythms of Daily Life

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Nigeria, Ebola Threat Tests the Rhythms of Daily Life

Article excerpt

At a nightclub in the Nigerian capital Saturday, nearly 500 miles from the nearest Ebola patient, two partygoers bumped elbows in what has become an alternative greeting to the handshakes that typically last well into a conversation.

The men then pointed at each other, acknowledging the funny new greeting - a response to the Ebola outbreak, which has infected 12 people and killed four in the past five weeks in Nigeria.

Nigeria has earned praise for moving swiftly to contain Ebola. But as the outbreak drags on, with two more diagnoses over last weekend, the public is increasingly tense as false information and simple realities complicate government response.

Ebola has killed more than 1,200 people this year, according to the World Heath Organization, in an outbreak it calls an international emergency. All but four of the deaths have been in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. But health workers fear that a large outbreak in Lagos - arguably Africa's most populated city - would pose a new level of threat.

Containment efforts have thus far been able to forestall that possibility, keeping the death toll very low. The government has launched a massive education campaign, and has tracked down hundreds of people who may have come into contact with the disease, according to Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu.

"Little has been said about the successful containment in terms of ensuring that it did not spread so rapidly as it has done in other countries," he says as his staff passes out flyers with cartoon illustrations aimed at educating people about how to behave.

Indeed, the health threat has noticeably changed some longstanding practices. Just a few weeks ago, at crowded bus stations, for example, passengers would elbow their way on to minivans in what is jokingly called an "African queue" and pile in practically on top of each other. Now, travelers line up neatly and enter one by one, demanding that the normally overcrowded buses limit the number of passengers.

"Everybody is scared because they say you can get it through body contact," says Alexander Akinwale, a passenger traveling around town trying to sell advertising for his magazine.

Even in upscale, rarely crowded neighborhoods, locals are wary. On a breezy, tree-lined street Monday night, the yoga instructor at an Abuja spa was taking students' temperatures and limiting her class to 12 people - though that wasn't even necessary, as many people were staying home of their own accord.

With the relatively small number of cases, many Nigerians are optimistic that a large outbreak may be averted altogether, preventing new pressures on Nigeria's already flailing hospital system.

On a small scale, Nigeria has the facilities to isolate and treat Ebola patients, according to Dr. Aliyu Bappa, a pathologist and former Nigerian Medical Association chairman. …

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