Dr Ameyo Adadevoh: The forgotten heroine?

It’s been five years since Dr Ameyo Stella Shade Adadevoh, a Nigerian physician credited with preventing the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the country by placing the patient zero, Patrick Sawyer, in quarantine despite pressures from the Liberian government died. However, the Nigerian government is yet to honour the astute physician for the supreme sacrifice. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes with agencies.

The saying that a prophet is not recognised in his home aptly captures Nigeria’s treatment of Dr Ameyo Adadevoh, lead consultant physician and endocrinologist at the First Consultant Hospital in Lagos. She had never seen Ebola before but was able to diagnose and contain Nigeria’s first-ever Ebola patient in July 2014.

At the risk of contracting the virus she held down and quarantined Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer despite pressures from the Liberian government thus preventing the spread of the disease in 2014. When threatened by Liberian officials who wanted the patient to be discharged to attend a conference, she resisted the pressure and said, “for the greater public good” she would not release him.

Since Nigeria’s health system was not prepared for an outbreak at the time, she contracted Ebola and died alongside three of her colleagues. Her heroic efforts prevented a major outbreak in the most populous African country and served as the catalyst for successful government action to contain the spread of what would have been a major outbreak in a country of more than 190 million people.

As a result of her keen perception, courage, and steadfastness, all 20 Ebola cases in Nigeria were traced to a single path of transmission originating with the first (index) patient who took a flight from Monrovia, Liberia to Lagos. This is what differentiated the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria from the outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where the index patients were not initially diagnosed or contained.

The success story of Dr. Adadevoh and the sacrifice she made to prevent a national, even possibly global catastrophe; cannot be complete without acknowledging the health facility because the case may have been different if Sawyer had ended up in a different hospital under the care of a different doctor.

The World Health Organization declared Nigeria Ebola-free on the 20th of October 2014.

Personal Life

Dr. Adadevoh’s family lineage reinforces her role as a patriot, leader, and heroine. Her paternal great grandfather, Herbert Samuel Macaulay, was a prominent politician and is considered to be the founding father of Nigerian nationalism. He established the first political party and his portrait is on Nigeria’s N1 coin.

Her maternal great-uncle was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria, a respected modern nationalist, and one of the most revered politicians in Nigerian history.

Her father, Babatunde Kwaku Adadevoh, was a renowned physician, distinguished scientist, lecturer, author, and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos. He served as a consultant and advisor to numerous international organizations such as the World Health Organization and several United Nations agencies and commissions.

Ebola in Nigeria

In 2012, H1N1 (swine flu) spread to Lagos, Nigeria and Dr. Adadevoh was the first doctor to diagnose and alert the Ministry of Health. Less than two years later, she was again the first doctor to identify another contagious virus, Ebola.

On July 20, 2014, Sawyer, Nigeria’s first Ebola patient left quarantine in Liberia and flew to Lagos, Nigeria to attend a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

He collapsed at the airport in Lagos and was taken to First Consultants Medical Centre (FCMC), the private hospital where Dr. Adadevoh worked. Under normal circumstances as an ECOWAS official, he should have been taken to a government hospital, but the doctors at all government health facilities were on an indefinite strike so he was taken to FCMC.

The first doctor at FCMC who saw Sawyer diagnosed him with malaria. When Dr. Adadevoh saw him during her ward round the following day, she suspected Ebola despite the initial malaria diagnosis and the fact that neither she, nor any other doctor in Nigeria, had ever seen Ebola before.

She questioned Sawyer about having contact with anyone with Ebola, which he denied, however, being the thorough clinician she was, Dr Adadevoh immediately contacted the Lagos state ministry of health and federal ministry of Health and got him tested for Ebola.

While waiting for the test results, the patient and other Liberian government officials began insisting that she discharge Sawyer so he could attend the ECOWAS conference. She refused.

They threatened to sue her for kidnapping and violating his human rights, holding him against his will because she did not have a confirmed diagnosis, but she continued to resist their relentless pressure and said that “for the greater public good” she would not release him.

Sawyer’s Ebola diagnosis was later confirmed, and he died at FCMC.

Dr. Adadevoh’s accurate and swift diagnosis of Sawyer resulted in the Nigerian government mobilizing the necessary resources to deal with an Ebola outbreak.

Her actions allowed for a much more strategic containment of the virus across the country and the Nigerian government was able to successfully trace all possible contacts from the index patient, Sawyer.

There were 20 Ebola cases, 11 were healthcare workers and of those healthcare workers, 6 survived and five died, including Dr. Adadevoh.

Campaign to immortalise Dr Adadevoh

The campaign to immortalise the extraordinary physician was initiated by the Centre for Impact Advocacy (CIA), a non-governmental organisation.

Speaking on the campaign, human rights activist and journalist, who is a member of the group Mr Peter Nkanga said, “Dr Adadevoh deserves even the highest honour in the land because she saved hundreds of lives that would have been wasted if the Liberian diplomat was allowed to leave that hospital.

“This woman sacrificed herself so that we can live unfortunately; the Nigerian government has not deemed it necessary to accord her the recognition due to her. It’s an honour that one expects the government to have bestowed on her a long time ago.”

In recognition of her sacrifice to save the lives of many Nigerians who were at the risk of contracting the deadly Ebola virus disease, friends and associates in the medical profession recently gathered in Abuja to call on relevant authorities to honour and immortalise her.

The event which took place at the First Baptist Church, Garki, was organised by the Guild of Medical Directors of Nigeria (NGMD) in association with friends and associates of the late medical practitioner.

It’s gross oversight

Speaking at the event, the president of NGMD, Prof Femi Babalola, said it was a gross oversight for such laudable gesture to be forgotten five years after.

According to him, “I think the formal recognition that has not been given to the late Dr Adadevoh is a gross oversight. I feel that the president wants to commemorate her but the way things run in this country is such that everyone appears busy doing one thing or the other as against what is needful.”

Speaking further, he said, “Those of us in the guild are very passionate about her because she was one of us before she died and we have never forgotten her. We are even happier that some individuals in the press and young activists are carrying out campaign to immortalise her memory.

“I want to believe that once the need to commemorate her is brought to public domain, the law makers and executive would do what it takes to ensure that her memory does not fade in the history of this nation.”

He noted that what the deceased medical consultant did was remarkable because she gave her life for others to live, stating, “This is like what Jesus Christ did so that many would be ransomed. If you look at what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today, you would realise that, at least, 1,500 people have died as a result of the Ebola crisis and there seems to be no end in sight.

“Also, in Sierra Leone around the time that Dr Adadevoh died, the plague spread in that country for months with hundreds dead. You can imagine what would have happened in Nigeria if that Liberian diplomat found his way to another Nigerian aircraft and flew to Calabar or if he was admitted in a public hospital rather than a private hospital.

“We are calling on the government to do something in the memory of Adadevoh. They can name an institution or public building after her, just to ensure that children yet unborn can remember that once upon a time, there was a woman who lived and sacrificed her life so that Ebola spread can be curtailed in Nigeria.”

Reps motion to honour her

While speaking on the matter, the former minority leader in the House of Representatives, Hon Samson Osagie, said it was an error that years after the House passed a motion to honour Dr Adadevoh the executive was yet to do anything about it.

He said, “This woman needs to be remembered because of her role in the spread against Ebola epidemics that spread across the country in 2014. It must be understood that she stood in the gap for a very devastating epidemics that would have ravaged our nation. Dr Adadevoh as a medical doctor took the risk to put her life and the profession on the line and she eventually sacrificed herself for it.

“I recall that in 2014, as a member of the House of Reps then, we passed a motion on the floor of the House immediately the incident took place and urged the government to take immediate step to immortalise Dr Adadevoh.

“A copy of the motion obtained by Blueprint Weekend dated October 28, 2014, read in part: “Need to immortalize late Stella Ameyo Adadevoh and compensate the families of the health workers who died after contacting Ebola virus disease.”

In consternation, Osagie said, “The fact that up till now nothing has been done calls for serious concern. I want to urge and join all the voices calling for a national recognition in honour of this great heroine of our nation, who made so much sacrifice. I do not know what other sacrifice could have been more than that.

“It is though short of equating her with Jesus Christ but she put her life on the line. I would be glad to be part of this advocacy to ensure that not only is she recognised nationally, but that the values from her professional conduct should be internalised and taught at every level of our governance in Nigeria.

“It is quite sad that it had remained so but I believe under the current arrangement, if the matter is brought before the relevant authorities, it would receive attention.”

ECOWAS’ll ensure her memory is alive

The Secretary General ECOWAS Commission, Dr Nelson Magbagbeola, said the commission recognises what the late Adadevoh did to save many lives in the sub region.

He noted that First Consultant Clinic in Lagos where the late doctor died was used by the commission, therefore it behoves on them to ensure that her memory remains alive.

“Let me say that ECOWAS actually recognised the effort of Dr Adadevo and her team of medical doctors. I must tell you that at the last summit of the Heads of State of ECOWAS held here in Abuja, she was recognised and that was under the chairmanship of President Muhammadu Buhari, who was chairman of ECOWAS Heads of States then.

“We have drawn lessons about public health issues in Africa and that led to the establishment of ECOWAS Centre for Disease Control which is also domiciled here in Abuja. Part of the lessons is that we should take the issue of public health seriously. The ECOWAS Commission has nothing against recognising Dr Adadevoh for what she did for humanity.”

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