Sunday, 1 March 2015

Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh - My Cousin, The Ebola Hero

I was at home in North London last summer, a short bus ride away from the Royal Free Hospital, where Pauline Cafferkey, the UK’s first Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) victim received treatment, when I heard that my cousin Dr Ameyo Stella Adadevoh had diagnosed and contained Nigeria’s EVD index patient, thereby saving millions of lives. I sent Ameyo a message telling her how proud I was and she replied, ‘I am well. We are all well at the hospital by God’s Grace.’ The patient was Mr Patrick Sawyer, an American-Liberian diplomat who had been quarantined following the death of his sister, an Ebola patient, on July 8, 2014. The incubation period for EVD is 21 days however, Mr Sawyer gained clearance to fly out of Liberia for Nigeria just 11 days after his sister’s death, to attend a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the City of Calabar, on the south eastern coast of Nigeria. This journey would require him to make his first stop in Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city of 17.5 million people. Fellow airline passengers have since reported that Mr Sawyer was noticeably ill on the flight. CCTV footage at Lagos airport shows him standing apart from other passengers, moments before he collapsed. The date was July 20th, a Sunday. Government hospitals were closed as doctors were on strike over pay. The taxi driver who assisted Mr Sawyer took him to a well-known private family hospital before driving his colleague, who was also feeling poorly, to Port Harcourt some 272 miles away. The private hospital in question was First Consultants Medical Clinic (FCMC), where Ameyo had been the Chief Medical Officer in the twenty years following her post graduate studies at the Hammersmith Hospital in London. The first doctor who saw to Mr Sawyer gave him intravenous fluids and instructed the newly-recruited pregnant nurse to give him a sponge bath to reduce his temperature. Mr Sawyer’s symptoms worsened and the next day on the 21st July, the doctor asked Ameyo to look in on his patient during her ward round. Ameyo stood at the door and asked Mr Sawyer if he’d been in contact with an Ebola victim. He said no. And although she’d never seen an Ebola patient before, Ameyo immediately instructed her staff to section off his private room. Then she contacted the Lagos State and the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health to get him tested. Health officials advised her to transfer Mr Sawyer to the Lagos quarantine centre in Yaba. Ameyo refused. She’d long campaigned for the Yaba facility to be upgraded and she felt that Mr Sawyer would be more comfortable at FCMC. It was at this time that Ameyo came under intense pressure from the Liberian government to discharge Mr Sawyer so he could attend the ECOWAS conference. She refused. They threatened legal action accusing her of violating Mr Sawyer’s human rights. She held firm, understanding the importance of containing him. Then Sawyer himself pulled out his drip and threatened to leave the hospital. Ameyo donned her standard issue hospital gloves and gown, believing them to be sufficient protection, reinserted the drip and barricaded him in his room. Four days later, on July 24, Mr Sawyer’s EVD diagnosis was confirmed. He would die later on that same day. On August 5, 2014, I heard the news that the female doctor who had treated the Nigerian Ebola Index patient had been infected. I tried to call Ameyo but got no answer. I reached out to her sister who confirmed that Ameyo had indeed fallen ill. Some days later she was transferred from her home to the Yaba makeshift isolation unit she’d deemed too inferior for Mr Sawyer. There, a single WHO volunteer, ‘Dr David’, cared for the 20 affected people, eight of whom were healthcare workers from FCMC. My family fought hard to save Ameyo but we lost her on August 19, 2014. Four other FCMC professionals also died including the nurse who was on her first day at work. Mr Sawyer’s companion presented himself at a hospital in Port Harcourt where he was treated for malaria and discharged. Both the patient and the treating doctor died as did two others and 400 possible contacts where monitored for the disease. But it was contained and on October 20, the World Health Organisation declared Nigeria Ebola-free. Of the West African nations that have grappled with EVD, Nigeria has been hailed as the model because of the actions of a single doctor who promptly identified the index patient. It is worth noting that Ameyo also diagnosed Nigeria’s first H1N1 influenza infection. Today, Ameyo’s name will return 94,000 results if you place it in a Google search. Numerous traditional and online media including the UK’s Guardian named her a hero of 2014. Whilst it is true that the world was not ready for the EVD outbreak, it is also the case that much that can be done to shore up the healthcare systems of the countries where EVD is a continuing threat. Ameyo returned to Nigeria because she wanted to help Nigeria’s healthcare system. To realise this ambition, our family has launched The Dr Ameyo Stella Adadevoh Health Trust, (, a non-profit organisation to continue her legacy of service and improve and advance the healthcare system in Nigeria. We are as proud as we are determined to make sure that Ameyo’s ultimate sacrifice marks the beginning of a movement to change in Nigeria’s healthcare system.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Who inspires you?

How hard is it to break out from what you know into where you'd like to be? The twisting journey is the thing but where do you look for inspiration to go on? No, its not about going on.That's not what I mean. I am talking about breaking a new path. Destroying what was expected and creating reality from a long held dream? Earning a living as a published novelist in the place of being a corporate writer? I turn to musicians. Their work, their stories. The whole thing. Picture this: you see Prince in concert when you are fifteen and from that moment you decide that you will play instruments like he does. Then Madonna signs you. Soon you count decades in the music business. It's the stuff of fairy tales yet Meshell Ndegeocello's life is well documented. I know there's a lot of hard work and talent in the spaces between those sentences, but the work actually went somewhere. It didn't founder on compromise or fad or anything like that. That's what gets me out of procrastination. And I don't understand all the rap music I hear but I'm fired with so much energy and admiration for the stories of those who create this art form. Imagine turning from a life in the projects to disrupting an entire industry as Jay Z has done with his innovative approach to business. Or changing perceptions and broadening the audience for your art from in the way that will-i-am has. And this one's not a rapper but, how about Pharrell Williams inspiring people from nations as far away as Somaliland - I mean Somaliland! That tiny haven of peace amidst a thunder of bullets flying....I don't think I've ever seen women in hijabs dancing to a mainstream record like that. Makes me feel like anything is possible - my career as a novelist is possible and so the struggle continues.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Words and meanings

I get called scary sometimes; an ex (whom I should never have dated) once called me intimidating. Sometimes when I am super stressed, people will tell me I look calm. Other times when I am stressed, those same people will say that I look aggressive. These days I dismiss other people's impressions as misguided projections. Words like scary, dominant and intimidating don't bother me at all. I imagine that I would have the same reaction to being called bossy. I was called the n-word once though. One time to my face that is. It was so weird how it happened. I must have been about 15 or 16 on a visit to the UK from Ghana. My dad put me on a train to Great Yarmouth with instructions to get off at Norwich where family friends would meet me. I imagined Great Yarmouth to be this huge yawning mouth that I was going to be lucky to escape. My dad, who has always had the gift of making friends with strangers, introduced me to a Yarmouth-bound family who made room for me to sit with them. Their daughter was a few years younger than me and was happy for someone to talk to. As the train pulled away, I waved at Dad feeling safe and happy. My new friend, let's call her A invited me to play spot the cow. It was a beautiful summers day- the kind where the clouds and sky are exactly as you would wish them. The grass looks so healthy you could eat, drink and dance in it. I played A's game, squealing and pointing out of the window at the cows she didn't see first. When we got bored we sang as many TV jingles as we could remember. It was the Eighties. Brixton and Toxteth were rioting. Miners were making threats to strike. Cashpoint machines were the latest New Thing. Mrs T was in charge and unemployment was a regular news feature. A group of older teens boarded the train an hour or so into the journey. They were mostly boys - sort of rough but not frightening. At least not at first. They entered our carriage and sat not far from us. There was a single girl in the group: blond, pretty and well-turned out. The boys seemed to treat her with respect. They made sure she was comfortable, included her in their joking. They were loud but easy to ignore. I was too busy pretending to be a few years younger and playing my game. I was on holiday from the revolution madness in Ghana. I was enjoying being childish. The boys began to recount the details of a recent altercation. They became excited, their voices rising as each told his part in the fight. Someone began to sing. I'd heard the song before but in the train it sounded different. I stopped giggling and just stared out of the window. I missed my Dad. The other boys joined in with the trigger, trigger shoot the n----- song. The family I was with said nothing. The boys began to laugh and the moment might have passed when the girl said, 'Oh look there's one here.' I was too young, too fresh off the plane to feel anything other than shame. I hung my head and stared into my lap. My train-journey family did the same. To my eternal gratitude those boys took one look at me and changed the topic. The train journey continued in silence. My train-journey family didn't wave when I got off at Norwich. Everything changed because of one word. The current 'ban bossy' brouhaha reminded me of that incident. Words are so powerful yet I wonder if anyone would feel threatened, I mean really threatened if they were called bossy on a train? Okay that might be an extreme and out of context analogy. But we should be asking whether the fear of being perceived as bossy is really what prevents women from asserting themselves. If that really is the case then why don't we also ban nursery rhymes that tell girls to be sugar and spice everything nice? If, as Beyonce says in the ad, this campaign is about leadership positions then shouldn't we be telling girls to emulate their bosses? Isn't that what bossy means? To be like a boss? In general (in general) I believe that most words are just words, and real change comes from a deeper place.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Once you get started...

Wow, twice in the same morning. This is something of a role. Ha! Or roll. Thing is, blogs are short. Or can be. There are no rules except they better be pithy if you want to catch someone's attention. I've spoken about rappers before but maybe that's where they do well. They catch us as we think with their fast and clever words. Poets do that too but music is so easy, so accessible, so regular. What a great way to reach someone. A book seems all too baggy. Too much time and concentration needed. So they need to fool the reader. Make like they are a pithy intuitive thing. However hard. Seep into the consciousness like an ear worm and stay.
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