No additional reporting by missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan
A Nigerian tourist quarantined today as a precautionary measure has no symptoms of the Ebola virus, the Ministry of Health has said.
The health ministry and Health Protection Agency (HPA) briefed the press this afternoon following media reports of a Nigerian man taken from the foreign ministry in Malé to a quarantine facility in Hulhumalé by Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officers in protective suits.
HPA Epidemiologist Dr Aishath Aroona Abdulla explained that the foreign ministry informed the health authorities because the Nigerian was “sick looking”.
“After inspection, the doctor at the Hulhumalé hospital said he did not have fever. He is not taking medication for anything at the moment,” she said, noting that the most important symptom of Ebola was high fever along with fatigue, headaches, and aching joints.
Dr Aroona said she questioned the patient and took his history at the Hulhumalé hospital.
“He told me that he did not have a fever or any symptoms, but said ‘I am sick because I have nothing to eat,'” she said.
As the Nigerian did not have a fever, Dr Aroona said there was no risk of people he came into contact with catching the Ebola virus.
“However, he will be observed for the next 24 hours to see if he gets a fever,” she said, adding that both the MNDF officers who transported the suspected patient and the doctor were wearing personal protective equipment.
As the Nigerian could not be considered an Ebola patient, Dr Aroona said samples would be sent to a laboratory in Pune, India for testing only if he exhibits symptoms of a fever in the next 24 hours.
Under protocols put in place in accordance with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, she said if he develops a fever the patient would be treated as a suspected case until the test results return negative.
The authorities had the resources needed to treat a suspected Ebola case, she said, adding that the patient would be released with surveillance if he did not develop a fever.
The Nigerian was screened upon arrival in the Maldives and entered into the HPA database, revealed Dr Aroona, explaining that visitors from countries facing an Ebola outbreak were placed under surveillance if they had been in the country for 21 days, which is the incubation period for the virus.
While 109 individuals from countries where the virus has been detected have visited the Maldives so far, Dr Aroona said 78 were placed under surveillance, of which 27 were presently in the country.
The resort or guesthouse where the tourist is staying are told to inform the authorities if a guest exhibits symptoms of Ebola, she explained.
She noted that Nigeria and Senegal were “low-transmission” and “low risk” nations with no new cases reported in the past 21 days.
“It’s very unlikely for someone who has traveled to Nigeria to contract Ebola,” she said, adding that visitors from the country were placed under surveillance as a precautionary measure.
While the countries where Ebola was rapidly spreading were Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Dr Aroona said there have been no visitors from any of these countries.
While passport holders from the three African nations have visited the Maldives, she noted that none had traveled to these countries for 21 days prior to arriving in the Maldives.
State Minister for Health Hussain Rasheed said the Maldives was following international best practices in accordance with WHO recommendations and efforts were underway to improve surveillance capabilities.
He appealed to the media to correct initial reports and provide information responsibly, noting that the Maldivian economy was dependent on tourism and could be adversely affected by alarmist news headlines.
Director General of Health Services Dr Sheeza Ali revealed that the Nigerian was in the Maldives on a tourist visa but had attempted to find work in the country.
“So we will be consulting with the immigration [department] and the tourism ministry,” she said.
The Nigerian arrived in the Maldives on September 13, she added.
Dr Aroona meanwhile said the incident would be reviewed to improve the process of isolating and testing.
The Nigerian had gone to the foreign ministry for “personal purposes,” Dr Aroona said, declining to reveal details.
According to the WHO, more than 3,000 people have died from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa while a total of 6,574 cases have been reported so far.