There have been extremely troubling reports about the Ebola Index case in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The man was a physician, lets call him Dr Index, who knew he had been exposed to Ebola in Lagos. Rather than take the necessary precautions, Dr. Index traveled by air to Port Harcourt where Dr Index exposed patients in his private clinic. Dr Index also exposed family members and church members who performed healing rituals that involved laying of hands on Dr Index. All of these activities were after Dr Index was fully symptomatic. The Nigerian blogs are rife with speculation, people claiming that Dr Index had mental problems or that Ebola clouded his mind. Others assume that Dr Index was greedy and was chasing money by practicing in his private clinic. I doubt if any of these were the case, after all Dr Index was alert enough to perform surgeries and participate in community activities. I think it boils down to something a lot more sinister. A mindset that is rife with dangerous superstitions.
These superstitions are extremely dangerous. The pervasive mentality of some religious people in Nigeria is that a disease is “not in my portion.” This is the attitude that Dr Index showed by leaving Lagos fully aware of his exposure to Ebola. If you believe you are impervious to diseases or other problems because they are not in your portion, you take unnecessary risks and make irrational choices. There are so many examples of this behavior, I know of several cases of women who tried to pray away early stage breast cancer only to die a slow painful death from metastatic cancer. Or the case of parents whose kids had a minor bacterial infection but refused to use medication preferring prayer until it was too late. Public Health, therapeutic, hygiene, sanitation and other interventions will be ineffective when people continue to sabotage them with ignorance and superstitions.
This mentality is not unique to Nigerians and is shared by many West Africans. Denial and superstitions is why people hide family members that have Ebola instead of protecting them and the community by sending them to health care centers for proper treatment and quarantine. Instead of rejecting superstitions, people embrace these superstitions tightly. Instead they hide away from help and try to pray the Ebola away, after-all it is not in their portion. It is no wonder that attempts at containing Ebola in Liberia are proving quite difficult.
The portion preferred by some folks is one where it is easy to regurgitate conspiracy theories rather than practice the courage displayed by physicians like Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh who made the ultimate sacrifice to prevent an Ebola epidemic in Lagos. Nigerians continue to sing her praises and those of the unnamed healthcare workers who sacrificed health or life for public safety. These songs will be mere lip service and could easily turn into insulting dirges to the memory of Dr Ameyo Adadevoh if they are punctuated with the superstitious refrains of “It is not in my portion.”