CAF, Morocco and the Ebola question

Wednesday 12 November 2014

/ by Colin Udoh
Ebola testing at Nigerian airport arrival

Finally, Morocco have pulled out and CAF find themselves in the unenviable position of having to look for a new host for the 2015 African Nations Cup.

At remarkably short notice.

Morocco's official reason for deciding to pass on hosting the competition followed from their fear of the Ebola Viral Disease outbreak in parts of West Africa.

There are suggestions however, that in-fighting within the Royal Moroccan Federation might have played a bigger part than reported, but that is a different story.

Having seen the handwriting on the Moroccan wall, CAF took the proactive measure of reaching out to at least 7 other African countries to test out their willingness to pick up the slack.

For the most part, what they encountered was the opposite of willingness. Countries were not exactly falling over themselves to take up the hosting rights.

One country that was not asked however, was Nigeria. A country with one of the continent's richest track records of hosting events: All Africa Games, African Nations Cup, FIFA Under 20 World Cup, and FIFA Under 17 World Cup.

Despite that, a Letter of Intent arrived from Nigeria, anyway, according to information out of Cairo.

Unfortunately, Nigeria also happens to be at the vanguard of the major reason for Morocco and other countries not being particularly enamoured of hosting at this time: Ebola.

Then again, that is the one standout reason why Nigeria should step up and throw their hat in the ring.

Without detracting from the seriousness of the disease, Nigeria's handling of the outbreak, aptly described by the World Health Organisation as 'a piece of world-class epidemiological detective work', presents clear and compelling evidence that with proper and strictly enforced protocols in place, mass movement and interaction of people can continue to happen without fatal exposure to Ebola.

The mass apprehension about the disease appears to stem more out of a lack of information, than actual facts.

And that is why the next few paragraphs are so important.

As infectious as Ebola is, the single most important fact is that it is not airborne. Transmission occurs only via contact with an infected person who is already sick with the disease.

Symptoms of a sick, Ebola-infected person are clear and physically visible: spike in temperature, vomiting, bleeding, debilitation, etc.

Transmission of the disease is via direct contact with bodily fluids of a sick person. This explains why care-givers and immediate family members top the list of second degree infected cases.

William Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University told Scientific American that Nigeria did nothing extraordinary in beating Ebola, but they did it well
 "Actually what Nigeria did is routine, regular—but vigorous and rigorous—public health practice. They identified cases early—fortunately they had a limited number—and they got a list of all of the contacts, and they put those people under rigorous surveillance so that if they were to become sick, they wouldn't transmit the infection to others," he says.

Among those practices are health workers stationed at ports of entry nationwide, temperature-testing. 

Similar teams man entrances to hotels and other public and private buildings. In fact, most private buildings have trained security staff and others at first access points to test for Ebola.

The process is quick, non-invasive and, as proven by the absence of any new cases, effective.

In addition, the widespread public enlightenment campaigns about hand washing and use of hand sanitizers gained immediate traction. Almost every building now has a hand-sanitizing station. Plus many people also carry their own sanitizers about.

Further proof is provided by Saudi Arabia, where over 3 million people, including a reported 1 million from Africa travelled for the Muslim Pilgrimage without any reports of an Ebola outbreak.

For the Nations Cup, CAF claim that an average of 1000 fans usually fly in from outside the host country, a number that could be significantly managed by host countries.

CAF sources say Morocco were even offered the choice of hosting the tournament without visiting fans, and putting strict health protocols in place for issuing visas to media.
Morocco were unwilling to take the risk.

In any case, of the three countries with ongoing Ebola outbreak, only Guinea are in any danger of qualifying.

But even in the unlikely event that they do, Guinea have been playing their qualifying games in, wait for it, Morocco!

The same country that as yet, has not asked for a postponement of the FIFA Club World Cup that it is scheduled to host in December.

Sources in Cairo indicate that Nigeria and Angola are in the driving seat, with Gabon and Egypt also in the running. Angola hosted as recently as 2010 and the facilities are still believed to be in place.

Nigeria, apart from successfully stemming Ebola, have four ready-made stadia with natural grass pitches in Abuja, Kaduna, Calabar and the spanking new Uyo Stadium.

The one, major drawback is that general elections are scheduled to hold in Nigeria just one week after the Final Match.

Infact, word out of CAF was that the delay in making an announcement, was to consult more extensively with Nigerian government officials.

What is certain, as CAF have made abundantly clear, is that the Nations Cup will definitely go ahead as scheduled.

They just need to find a brave host. 

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