Remembering My Aunt, Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh, Who Stopped Ebola in Nigeria

Remembering My Aunt, Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh, Who Stopped Ebola in Nigeria

L to R: MSH staffer Niniola Soleye and her aunt, Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh

My aunt, Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh, identified and contained the first case of Ebola in Nigeria.  She paid with her life because the health system was not ready to deal with Ebola.  The system has since caught up, and is today a model for other countries.  But the loss of such a gifted doctor and family anchor is incalculable.

Ebola arrived in Nigeria at a time when doctors at all federal government hospitals were on a labor strike (my aunt worked in a private hospital).  After ongoing negotiations with the government failed to meet their demands, the doctors – desperate to see significant changes in the health system and seeking improved salaries, positions, and titles – reached their breaking point.  So they went on an indefinite strike.

Patrick Sawyer – the index case – left quarantine in Liberia and collapsed at the airport in Lagos, Nigeria.  He was trying to travel to a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Calabar, Nigeria.

When he arrived at my aunt’s hospital, another doctor diagnosed him with malaria.  My aunt first encountered him during her ward round the following day and once she saw him she suspected Ebola even though she had never seen an Ebola patient before.  She questioned him and he denied being near anyone suffering from the virus but she immediately contacted the Lagos State and Federal Ministries of Health and got him tested.  While waiting for the test results to come back, the pressure on my aunt began.  Liberian government officials (and the patient himself) insisted that she discharge him so he could attend the ECOWAS conference.  She held her ground and resisted his release.  They even threatened to sue her for a violation of human rights (holding him against his will) but she remained steadfast for the greater public good.  Though she didn’t have the proper protective gear or protocols, she created an isolation area in her hospital to continue his treatment and protect her staff.  The patient couldn’t be moved because there was no isolation facility available in Nigeria at the time —the infectious diseases hospital in Lagos wasn’t functional. 

The test results came back.  Patrick Sawyer’s Ebola diagnosis was confirmed, and he died in her hospital.

My aunt became ill ten days later and was taken to a makeshift isolation ward that had been set up for all the Ebola cases in the infectious diseases hospital.  The conditions of the facility were so poor that she and other patients were eventually moved to a former tuberculosis ward that had been donated by the USG. 

Between the doctors’ strike and the lack of preparedness, the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria could have been a thousand times worse.  My aunt’s actions helped prevent a major spread of the virus across the country.  Because she raised the necessary red flags quickly and refused to discharge the patient, all Ebola cases in Nigeria can be traced to a single path of transmission originating with the index case. That’s no small feat in a country of more than 170 million people.    

The events leading to my aunt’s death were a clear result of the larger health system troubles in Nigeria.  That said, today, Nigeria is Ebola-free.  In fact, other countries – including the US – are now looking to Nigeria to share best practices for the response and containment of Ebola.  This demonstrates that the health system eventually did catch up to Ebola, but the response was too late for my aunt and several others who were on the front lines.  If the index patient had ended up in another hospital under the care of another doctor, the delayed response from the health system may have been much more costly.   

There are so many lessons to learn from the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  For me, the most obvious one is the importance of health system strengthening as a means to not only improve overall quality and access for all, but also to give countries the ability to properly respond to unexpected health challenges like Ebola.  If any of the affected countries had stronger health systems before this outbreak, the number of fatalities would have been significantly reduced.  We must learn from this outbreak and focus on health system strengthening as a crucial part of the rebuilding process. 

One of the biggest challenges in the Ebola current outbreak is a shortage of health workers.  The high fatality rates in this Ebola outbreak reflect that.  Health workers at all levels of a health system need to be properly supported, incentivized, and protected.  They shouldn’t have to go on strike in order to improve their health systems so they can provide higher quality care.  My aunt and the more than 200 other health workers in West Africa who also lost their lives in the battle against Ebola shouldn’t die in vain. 

I’m so proud that MSH is developing a solid short-term and long-term response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  As part of my role at MSH, I’m supporting the Ebola response team and I see that as my way of continuing my aunt’s legacy through my job and helping to prevent other families from experiencing what my family has gone through in the last two months.   

For me, the inability of the Nigerian health system to adequately prepare and quickly respond to the Ebola outbreak was an agonizing, first-hand example of the need for MSH and it reinforced the importance of the work we do.  My aunt’s death is still very painful but it comforts me to know that I am part of an organization that’s truly committed to saving lives (in everyday practice, not just in theory) and is dedicated enough to step into a crisis situation and mobilize the expertise and resources that are so desperately needed.

Niniola Soleye is a Communications Specialist at Management Sciences for Health. 


Adaeze Umolu
I am glad you are able to share this story from your perspective on a bigger platform. It is one thing to read a story but when we put a face to the players in that story, It comes home. I know that you had such regards for your aunt and to learn about how she passed away was very sad for me, even though I never knew her. When you say that being a part of MSH makes things better, I can really identify with that. because we need organisations like MSH to stop the menace that Ebola is causing across our West African region. I hope that very soon the spread and the deaths will stop and be contained just as it is in Nigeria, after the heroic intervention of someone like your aunt.
Sylvia Vriesendorp
My deepest condolences Nineola, thank you so much for sharing, This is amazing story that I'd like many people to read. Your aunt should be canonized for what she has done. I can just imagine the pressure on her to release the ill man but I can also imagine what would have happened had he traveled to Calabar, a nightmare scenario. Many people now owe their life to her, yet she died, so very sad.
My condolences to you and thanks for sharing. Your Aunt's action definitely made a significant difference. Such a pity she wasn't able to benefit.
Dear Niniola: Thank you for sharing this story. Your aunt was very brave. As insulated as we are here in the US, I've been trying to paint a picture of the impact Ebola has to my children and how brave men and women like your aunt are. I know your aunt is making an impact not just in Nigeria but is teaching young children how to lead by example. My deepest condolences to you and your family.
Dear Niniola: thank you so much for sharing your story. Your aunt is truly one of those many heroes that are making a difference on people's lives and they do it mostly for the greater good as you said it. You should be proud of her as we are proud of having colleagues like you at MSH.
Carla Stone
Dear Niniola, We don't know each other, but I want to extend my condolences to you and your family. Your aunt, Dr. Adadevoh, is a true hero, in every sense of the word. Her courage and resolution is an example to all of us who sometimes wonder whether one person can make a difference. She did. Her memory will live on the acts of service and the lives she saved, for generations. Thank you for telling her and your family's story. Clearly, she has been an inspiration to you.
Amy Damsker
My thoughts are with you and your family, Niniola. Thank you so much for sharing this story and thanks to your aunt for helping to save the lives of so many people. She is a hero.
Mary E
Dear Niniola, My condolences to you and your family. Your aunt is a hero and we are all truly blessed by her actions.
Patricia Nicklin
Dear Niniola, Thank you for sharing your Aunt's story and my deepest condolences to you and your family. Your Aunt saved so many and we are grateful. I am proud to be your MSH colleague. Many thanks, Pat
Ola O
Dear Niniola, Thank you for sharing your story. Your Aunt will never be forgotten, it is my prayer that the great comforter will always be close to you and your family. Ola
Dear Niniola, Thank you for sharing your story, and for your initiative to pursue your aunt's courage in saving people's life. May God bless you in your new role!

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