9 Years after ACEGID Helped Avert Ebola Disaster in Nigeria

Today, July 23, marks 9 years since ACEGID confirmed Nigeria’s first Ebola case, helping to avert the potentially disastrous spread of the disease in Nigeria, across Africa and the world. It took the ACEGID team, led by Prof. Christian Happi, an unprecedented six hours to confirm the Ebola virus. 

The first case of the disease was from a man Patrick Sawyer, who flew into Lagos from Monrovia on July 20, 2014. As a suspected case, all the tests conducted on this patient proved negative and there was disarray in the medical facility for fear of what his sickness was. Samples from the patient were then sent to ACEGID (then located at the Redemption Camp, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway) late on July 22.

The index case occurred a few days before the commencement of the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s Annual Congress, scheduled to hold at the Redemption Camp. This week-long event had over 3 million people from all over the world in attendance and a single Ebola case in that congregation could have meant an explosion of cases across Nigeria, Africa and the World. 

The Ebola confirmation was a major test for a centre in its infancy. The Centre did not have the ideal safety conditions to handle a virus like Ebola at the time. “It was a very risky endeavour. It was almost like a suicide mission, having to use a malaria culture hood for Ebola. But we had to do it,” said Prof. Christian Happi.

A few months earlier, the Redeemer’s University team had just won a World Bank African Centre of Excellence (ACE) grant to establish the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID). The ACE program was created as a platform for the development of skilled personnel with adequate resources to facilitate innovative research and solutions to Africa’s challenges in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We are grateful for the funding from the National Institutes of Health through the Human, Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) program and the World Bank,” said Prof Christian Happi. “Through their help, we had earlier put in place the infrastructure and resources we used to confirm that index case.”

Following the confirmation of the disease, ACEGID worked with the Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to set up a major man-hunt to track everyone that had come in contact with Mr. Sawyer on the plane and in the country. These individuals were brought together in an isolation centre, monitored and treated. Twenty of these were infected and eight died. Hence, Nigeria was able to contain Ebola within 93 days.

Using the Ebola experience as a springboard, ACEGID has continued to support public health by providing evidence that guides policy formulation and review. Over the last 9 years, ACEGID’s work has spanned Lassa fever, Yellow fever, mpox and Covid-19, among others. The centre has trained over 1,300 scientists in the genomic

“We thank our other numerous funders and collaborators over the years. Their partnerships have helped us to deepen our impact and extend our mission of raising a generation of young African pathogen hunters who are conducting high-level research on infectious diseases,” Prof. Happi concluded.