During the Ebola period of 2014, Dr. Amarachukwu Allison was quarantined as a secondary contact.
In November 2019, she was diagnosed with a viral haemorrhagic fever which she was exposed to and had to self-isolate for a week.
Her third quarantine was in February 2020 when she attended to a patient that turned out to be Nigeria’s index COVID-19 case — an Italian man who suddenly took ill after flying in from Milan, Italy, which was undergoing a virulent experience of the coronavirus then.
“I thought something beyond me was after me,” the 33-year-old physician told our correspondent.
Just like Dr. Stella Adadevoh, who first attended to Nigeria’s index Ebola patient, Liberian Patrick Sawyer, in July 2014, Amarachukwu averted what probably would have resulted in uncontrollable national disaster.
Amarachukwu was the first Nigerian doctor to come eyeball to eyeball with the index case of COVID-19 on February 27, 2020; but, unlike many health workers who have succumbed to the infectious disease in the country, she has been lucky to still be alive. It was her third brush with viral index case, she told PUNCH HealthWise.
Between 2014 and 2020, Nigeria has grappled with two viral outbreaks — one pandemic [COVID-19], and the other endemic [Ebola], but both have exacted major prices from front liner workers — some supreme.
Despite the hazards that accompanied healthcare delivery during this period, medical doctors in Nigeria earned N5,000 as monthly hazard allowances, with the physicians’ associations calling out members on strike as some state governments refused to pay the allowances.
Amarachukwu works for an international organisation in Ewekoro, a town in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
Narrating her encounter with Nigeria’s index COVID-19case, she said, “Three days before the case was presented, I had said to my colleagues that we needed to prepare; and I had added that COVID-19would not come soon and that even if it comes, it cannot come to Ewekoro but Lagos or Port-Harcourt,” she told PUNCH HealthWise.
She said that the symptoms of the 44-year-old Italian man who introduced COVID-19to Nigeria were not classic: “He only had a cough, fever, headache, and, body pain,” Allison told our correspondent.
“I asked him if he had travelled or had contact with anyone who had travelled to China in the last 14 days, and he said no. Yet, on that fateful day, I was watching CNN where Italy had been reported to have been badly hit.
“He had been in my office for some time and it was cold, but his temperature wasn’t coming down,” the 33-year-old physician said.
So, she figured out that for someone who was in the country for the first time and had been in her office for a while, his temperature should have come down.
“It was at that point I wore a face mask and I offered him one, but the good thing is that we had already rearranged our offices so that patients would not sit directly facing us.
“So, he was sitting a little bit far from me to my side and I think that was what helped me. Then, I told him what I suspected and he was very cooperative and I escalated it to the next-site director,” the medic said.
Amarachukwu, who ordered that the Italian man be isolated immediately, said she became unavoidably afraid. She seemed confident in what she thought could be the first confirmed COVID-19case in the country, but she wasn’t certain.
“I was afraid. It was a serious thing having to say that someone has COVID-19in Nigeria when we were still thinking it was far away.
“However, I explained the symptoms to my boss — that the patient came from Milan airport. The good thing was that he believed me. He then escalated it and we used the ambulance to transport him from Ogun State back to Lagos, where he was tested and confirmed COVID-19-positive,” she said.
Thereafter, Amarachukwu and her colleagues who were on duty were immediately placed on a 14-day quarantine.
“I was terrified, I thought I would die. I have asthma and we know that people with underlying conditions are at high risk and the fact that during the Ebola period, I was quarantined as a secondary contact.
“Again, in November 2019, I was diagnosed with a viral haemorrhagic fever which I was exposed to; I had to self-isolate for a week.
“So this was my third quarantine, and I thought something beyond me was after me,” she said.
But she was not alone in the history of frontliners facing first index cases during an outbreak in Nigeria.
When compared with Adadevoh, she feels humbled. “Though I don’t I think I can measure up to her because she paid the supreme price. That is the greatest sacrifice.
“I feel humbled that I have been compared to her; it’s mind-blowing, it makes me feel proud and humbled at the same time,” she said.
Over one year after, COVID-19has claimed millions of lives globally and infected many more.
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