The National Council on Health has banned the transport of corpses and critically ill persons on both local and international routes with immediate effect. It said only dead bodies with waivers granted by the Federal Ministry of Health would be transported within and into Nigeria . Such corpses must be conveyed only in ambulances.
To show its seriousness on the movement of corpses, the council advised state governments to enact legislation for its effective compliance. The NCH which is the highest policy making body in the health sector reached the decision after a meeting in Abuja on Tuesday.
Members of the council are the Minister of Health, the Minister of State for Health; state Health commissioners; the Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Federal Capital Territory, and the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health. As the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, briefed journalists on the outcome of the meeting, the World Health Organisation said it had approved the use of trial drugs such as the ZMapp serum by persons infected with the Ebola Virus Disease.
Chukwu explained that the council deliberated extensively on strategies to contain the spread of the EVD beyond those who had primary contact with the late Liberian, Patrick Sawyer, who brought the virus to Nigeria. He said since it had been established that the disease could only be spread through contact with either the corpse of someone who died of the virus or anyone who became sick as result of the viral infection, necessary steps had to be taken .
The minister added, “The corpses of all persons confirmed to have died of EVD must be buried according to WHO standard protocol. “Council further directed that the transport of corpses into Nigeria as well as inter-state transport be banned until further notice except with approved waivers that may be issued by the Federal Ministry of Health”
To ensure immediate compliance with the ban, Chukwu briefed the leadership of the National Union of Road Transport Workers and the National Road Transport Owners on the council’s decisions. He told those whose vehicles ply international routes to demand medical reports from sick passengers before accepting to carry them to Nigeria. Chukwu added that corpses from other nations must have waivers from the FMW and must be carried in only ambulances.
He said, “From today, don’t allow any sick person to enter your vehicle again except he or she produces a medical report which should contain the nature of the ailment and the fact that other passengers will not be infected. Only the dead and the sick can transmit the (Ebola) disease. “Secondly, don’t carry any corpse unless you have the waiver which is obtainable only from the Federal Ministry of Health, duly signed by the Minister.
So you must demand to see a waiver from anybody who may ask you to carry a dead person . “Find out from the ministry, the authenticity of the waiver in case you are in doubt. Without a waiver, we will not allow you to enter Nigeria and your vehicle will be impounded because Ebola disease is transmitted mainly by someone who died of the virus and infected persons .”
The minister also advised drivers and owners of commercial vehicles to insist that passengers must henceforth fill correctly, their names, next of kins, phone numbers and their seat numbers in manifests. He said that a protocol officer who obliged the late Sawyer the use of his mobile telephone contacted the virus while 10 members of a family died of EVD in Sierra Leone after they had buried an infected person.
Representatives of the two transport bodies, Ayoola Sadiku of NARTO and Alhaji Dansaki Sulaiman of the NURTW, pledged to convey the minister’s message to their members. They assured the minister of immediate compliance with the directives. Meanwhile, the NCH has urged the Nigerian Medical Association to suspend its strike and contribute to the ongoing response to the national health emergency.
It directed state governments to institutionalise communication strategies to ensure mass awareness of the EVD. The council also wants particular attention to be paid to vulnerable groups such as market women and other women groups, patent medicine vendors, road transport workers, fishermen, hunters and bushmeat sellers, school children, morticians and mortuary attendants as well as traditional healers and faith based groups.