This heroic doctor diagnosed Nigeria’s first Ebola case before dying of the disease herself

This heroic doctor diagnosed Nigeria’s first Ebola case before dying of the disease herself

Only a few months into the West African African Ebola outbreak in 2014, Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh correctly diagnosed and contained Nigeria’s first Ebola case—and later died because of it. She’s now hailed as a hero for staving off what could have been a much wider challenge had Ebola spread across Nigeria. Her sister, Dr. Ama Adadevoh, has set up a foundation in her honor and took the time to speak with us about her sister’s incredible work.

Left to right, Drs. Ameyo and Ama Adadevoh

Left to right, Drs. Ameyo and Ama Adadevoh

ONE: Tell us a bit about your relationship with your sister—were you close growing up? What motivated you both to become medical professionals?

Dr. Ama Adadevoh: My sister, Ameyo, was the oldest child in my family and I was second—we were very close. She was a loving and caring sister who always put others before herself. My father was a medical doctor and so this inspired us both to pursue careers in healthcare.

ONE: Your sister correctly diagnosed and contained the first case of Ebola in Nigeria in 2014. What do you think enabled her to make this diagnosis without having any previous experience with Ebola? How did the government initially react to her actions?

Dr. Adadevoh: Ameyo was very intelligent and a passionate doctor. She had a knack for diagnosing and always endeavored to attend courses and seminars to stay updated with advances and new things in the practice of medicine. I think this is what enabled her to make the correct diagnosis. Also, she had been following the Ebola outbreaks in neighboring West African countries.

At the time, Nigeria was not prepared for Ebola. So once my sister alerted them of her suspicion, the government began trying to handle the situation.

ONE: Because the Nigerian health system was not prepared for an outbreak, your sister contracted Ebola and very tragically passed away. In what ways do you think her death changed the way the Nigerian government responded to Ebola? What lessons did they learn?
Dr. Adadevoh: I don’t think my sister’s death changed the way the Nigerian government responded to Ebola. Rather, I think her correct diagnosis was the catalyst for government action. Once she raised the red flag, the government began mobilizing. Ultimately, by her identifying the first case of Ebola in Nigeria, the government was able to step in and do effective contract tracing and surveillance to contain the spread. And as a result, all 20 cases of Ebola in Nigeria could be traced back to the index patient.

This differentiated Nigeria from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone where the index patients were not recognized at the onset leading to much larger outbreaks. So it was all a cascading process beginning with my sister and her actions.

Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh

Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh

ONE: Now that the Ebola outbreak has nearly come to a close, what would you say are the greatest needs or gaps within the Nigerian health sector?
Dr. Adadevoh: The greatest needs in the Nigerian healthcare sector are skilled, well-trained human resources. Nigeria needs to focus on health worker training, especially for outbreak preparedness and response.

ONE: DRASA (the Nigerian non-profit you started in your sister’s honor) was instrumental in the launch of #ItStartsWithMe, a public health awareness campaign on the importance of handwashing for disease prevention. What have you learned about using social media as a tool for public health advocacy?
Dr. Adadevoh: Social media is an effective and powerful tool for public health advocacy because it’s an easy way to reach a wide audience. And your messages have the potential to go viral. For example, with our #ItStartsWithMe campaign, which launched online on Global Handwashing Day, we had so many people all around the world washing their hands. It was amazing to see such a large group of diverse people rallying around DRASA and carrying our message further.

ONE: In what ways do you think the private sector can be most helpful in filing gaps and needs in Nigeria?
Dr. Adadevoh: Public-private partnerships are crucial for the health sector in Nigeria. The private sector needs to more actively support the government in strengthening the healthcare system. We’ve seen the positive impact that can have because during the Ebola outbreak, there were several private entities that supported the government with resources, which definitely contributed to the success of containing the outbreak.

ONE: How can ONE members (including many in Nigeria) contribute to or support DRASA’s work?
Dr. Adadevoh: DRASA is supporting and strengthening the Nigerian healthcare system through outbreak preparedness/response and simulation training in infectious diseases and medical ethics. To accomplish this, we rely on strategic collaborations/partnerships and donations. ONE members who would like to learn more or contribute are invited to please visit our website: www.drasatrust.org.

Special thanks to our partners at the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, who organized a Capitol Hill event in November, during which Ama paid moving tribute to her sister and spoke about the importance of building up health workforce.

Investment in health makes a huge difference, and life-changing progress is already happening: Raise your voice for Global Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being.

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