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Ja not Ebola-ready: Manchester patient who sparked virus fears lashes Government on preparedness

Published:Wednesday | October 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Bob Banjo displays his passport to show that he returned to Jamaica well outside of the 21-day incubation period for Ebola. Banjo also displays a Ghanaian/Nigerian health certificate confirming that he did not have the Ebola virus when he left the region. Ian Allen/Photographer

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

The Nigerian man who set off alarm bells at the Mandeville Regional Hospital in Manchester last Saturday, after medical personnel there mistakenly thought he was displaying symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus, has warned that Jamaica is in trouble if his ordeal is any indication of the country's preparedness for the disease.

Dr Bob Banjo, who has resided in Jamaica for the last 28 years, blasted nurses and other employees at the hospital as being ill-prepared for an Ebola outbreak and described how some became hysterical after he revealed that he had travelled to his homeland in July.

Banjo, in recounting his ordeal to The Gleaner yesterday, admitted that he had dizzy spells and was sweating profusely when he turned up at the hospital and said the doctor on duty assigned a nurse to take his temperature and blood pressure.

He said the test showed that his blood pressure was high, prompting the nurse to ask him if he had travelled overseas this year.

Banjo said he admitted to visiting Nigeria from July 16 to August 27 and recounted the panic and hysteria that followed.

"The moment I told the nurse I travelled to Nigeria, she ran out and told the doctor [and] the whole hospital - even patients and the staff. They went haywire," he recounted.

"Because they claimed, 'This is somebody from Nigeria; he has Ebola'," he asserted.


The result, Banjo claimed, was that it took medical personnel more than nine hours to inform him that the dizziness and sweating he was experiencing was likely to have been caused by food poisoning or high blood pressure and prescribed medication.

The hospital's senior medical officer, Dr Everton McIntosh, told The Gleaner last night that he did not witness any of the incidents referred to by Banjo but cautioned that "there was an element of uncertainty regarding his (Banjo's) status".

McIntosh said that the national Ebola response plan was still evolving, and as a result, the hospital was not yet in possession of protective gear for staff.

"And so the staff was not prepared to expose themselves without the required protection," he said.

Banjo said McIntosh explained that his detention was in keeping with the established protocol to contact the health ministry in Kingston to determine whether he should be quarantined or sent home.

However, he argued that the health ministry could have easily checked with immigration authorities to verify that he returned to Jamaica on August 27, nearly two months before Saturday's visit and well outside the 21-day incubation period for the illness.

Frustrated and hungry, Banjo said he attempted to leave by force and was barred from doing so by security guards, who had been given strict instructions to prevent him from leaving.

He reported that some nurses flatly refused to treat him and recalled that another time when he attempted to leave and got as far as a passageway, several employees and patients ran outside the health facility.

"Given the nature of Ebola, people are understandably on edge," McIntosh insisted.

The Nigerian, who is a lecturer at the Mandeville campus of the Management Institute for National Development, was critical of the nation's preparedness for the disease, which, according to the World Health Organization, has killed close to 5,000 persons mainly in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

To substantiate this, he charged that the Mandeville Regional Hospital has no isolation area and said he was 'quarantined' in an office used by a doctor and elected not to leave.

The senior medical officer said: "This was the best we could do at that point in time as the designated facility (isolation area) was not fully prepared."

Banjo also reported that there was no hazardous material (HAZMAT) gear or other equipment at the hospital to handle suspected Ebola cases and claimed McIntosh showed up to treat him wearing a makeshift HAZMAT suit and waterboots.

"If [the] Government was ready for Ebola, what happened to me should not have happened," he reasoned.