Lagos 'Ebola hospital' battles to recover

Lagos - Nigeria may have been declared officially Ebola-free but at the First Consultants hospital in Lagos, doctors believe it'll take the facility that treated the first victim years to recover.

The 40-bed private clinic in the bustling Obalende area of the city paid a high price in the outbreak, after the first patient with the Ebola virus was admitted on 20 July.

Not only has it taken a financial hit from having to replace every piece of potentially contaminated equipment but it also suffered the human loss of much-respected staff with decades of expertise.

"The most precious equipment in a hospital are the people. I lost four of my most important staff," medical director Benjamin Ohiaeri told AFP.

"In the midst of this celebration [about Nigeria's Ebola-free status], people died... and it's because of them that this place is a safer place today."

Liberian finance ministry official Patrick Sawyer was brought to First Consultants on 20 July and died five days later, sparking fear about its spread through Africa's most populous nation.

The haemorrhagic fever, which has killed more than 4 500 in west Africa so far this year, was not initially diagnosed for three days and in that time, Sawyer infected 11 staff members.

In the entire outbreak in Nigeria, 19 people were confirmed to have contracted the virus and seven died.

Decontamination, losses

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday hailed Nigeria's response to Ebola as a "spectacular success story", saying every country should take note of how it handled the crisis.

Effective leadership and co-ordination were key to defying naysayers who feared the country, with its under-funded and ill-equipped public healthcare system, would struggle to cope.

For Ohiaeri, the most credit should go to Stella Adadevoh, his most senior doctor and the person he had expected to take charge after his planned retirement next year.

Adadevoh physically stopped Sawyer from leaving, despite pressure from Liberia, preventing potentially thousands of people in crowded Obalende and beyond from becoming infected.

"He didn't want to be treated. He pulled off his drip, he made sure that blood was everywhere, he did all kinds of things that were unspeakable and that's when people got infected," Ohiaeri said.

Adadevoh contracted Ebola and later died.

"She had been working with us for 21 years, one of the most brilliant physicians you'd have ever met. Humble, diligent, brilliant, I had always trusted her," said Ohiaeri.

"How do you replace someone like that?"

After Sawyer's death, the entire hospital had to be decontaminated and every piece of equipment, from the emergency room and laboratory to washing machines in the laundry, had to be replaced.

The clinic, which the US-trained Ohiaeri founded in 1982, was shut for two months, running up losses into the millions of dollars.

Fighting stigmatisation

First Consultants, though, also faces an uphill battle to regain the trust of patients, with the stigma of Ebola still present despite Nigeria's official all-clear.

The hospital may be open and immaculately clean but patient numbers are down 10-fold, while some of its doctors and nurses who survived Ebola say they are still treated with mistrust.

The four children of one nurse who had worked for 31 years at First Consultants and died from the virus were evicted from their home and the hospital had to find them emergency accommodation.

Dennis Akhaga, whose wife was a nurse and also died from the virus, said he met rejection in his community, including being refused access to shops.

He even lost his job with a Nigerian oil firm when his employer found out that his wife had died from Ebola.

Now, just as they were on the frontline of fighting Ebola in Nigeria, the medics say they want to help lead an awareness campaign about the virus.

"There's a need to let people know more about this," said Akinniyi Fadipe, a 29-year-old medical officer, who caught Ebola from Sawyer, survived and is now back at work.

"The same thing happened for HIV, too. Now, if you see someone with HIV, you won't be scared because you know you can't catch HIV like that."

The hospital is steadily trying to get back to normal, with Nigeria told to remain on high alert while the spread of the virus continues in the west African region.

Ohaieri said the time was now right for Nigeria and others to help them, particularly financially, with other hospitals watching their situation closely.

"It needs to be put out there that how we are treated is very important going forward," he added.

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