Little known until recently, the Ebola virus disease is changing the way Nigerians live. Many no longer exchange greetings or welcome guests by shaking hands. “Ranka dede”, a form of greeting that is popular in Hausa culture, has been borrowed by mainly residents of the north to ward off contact with other people because it involves gesticulating with the right arm only. Kogi State has banned the sale of all bush meat. There is apprehension in Calabar. Oyo has moved health officials to its boundaries to screen “visitors”. Kano, Ekiti and more states have constituted committees. In Lagos, mai suya (roasted meat sellers) are going empty-handed because there are no customers. Wherever one goes – markets, hospitals, inside buses, schools and drinking bars – the conversation is about Ebola.

The mode of transmission of this relatively new disease is however exaggerated in Nigeria. Doctors like health minister Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu have stated that Ebola is contracted only after it has manifested in a victim. For many Nigerians, however, it is better to err on the side of caution. Complaints of ordinary fever and headache – common symptoms of malaria – are now mistaken for Ebola!

No doubt, patients in Nigerian hospitals are in for harder times. Self-medication may become more rampant, since spending time in a hospital environment where Ebola patients are most likely to be found is a risk also. And, with the reported death of health workers who had been treating a victim, not many nurses and doctors will be willing to do their job well.

Rumours are flying. It would be necessary to ascertain what the experiences of Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, and Guineans have been. Nigeria being Nigeria, Ebola is sure to spread in the country. Its 1, 500 borders are porous, so anyone from Liberia or Guinea can easily walk in. And Nigerians travel a lot.

For now, bitter kola in Nigeria and Zmapp in America are presumed to be the “drugs” of choice against the disease – until further notice. Prayers also help.

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