Thursday, 8 March 2012

Nigeria: The Yellow Fever Spat with South Africa

Nigerians humiliated
It was just about 27 months ago when two sitting senators and an ex-envoy to South Africa were roughed up or somewhat humiliated by the South African immigration authorities.
I wrote then [1] that I would have very much wanted to protest the effrontery and disrespect to Nigeria, the country of my heritage by reason of my parents but after much thought I felt there was an underlying problem with Nigeria’s image that presaged that event and with high-level politicians suffering such humiliation their experience will inform the need to change elements of our national psyche to earn respect from countries like South Africa.
Happened again after warnings
That must have been a pipe-dream because South Africa having persistently complained [2] to the Nigerian government about the use of fake yellow fever vaccination cards by Nigerians precipitated a diplomatic row by turning back 125 Nigerians at their borders for apparently possessing fake yellow fever vaccination cards.
Politicians and Nigerians on social media forums rose up with righteous indignation, taking offence at the insensitivity and domineering influence of South Africa which they considered a slight on the supposed “Giant of Africa” – a very debatable concept but we are allowed our delusions and opinions.
In time, South Africans were getting deported, immigration checks enforced more stringently, envoys were summoned, politicians fulminating and in the process even Nigerians with legitimate cause [3] and valid documents began to bear the brunt of this fallout.
The rule is clear
The entry requirements to South Africa include this particular stipulation culled from the CDC [4]:
Effective October 1, 2011, proof of yellow fever vaccination is required for all travelers ≥ 1 year of age if traveling from or transiting through a country with risk of YFV transmission regardless of the amount of time spent at the airport. This requirement also applies to the following countries with low potential for exposure to YFV: São Tomé and Principe, Somalia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Eritrea (as of January 1, 2012).
Travelers not meeting this requirement can be refused entry to South Africa or be quarantined for up to 6 days. Unvaccinated travelers with a valid medical waiver will be allowed entry.
(Updated February 7, 2012)
Probably quite necessary for action
On this occasion, the immigration authorities chose to be heavy-handed rather than sympathetic, so rather than putting the Nigerians in quarantine for 6 days, they were deported. One of the passengers on that flight was a sitting senator and Nigeria would have preferred that this situation were handled to avoid embarrassment but a greater principle was at stake – forcing Nigeria to act and having such a high-level politician involved was just the opportunity.
South Africa has since apologised [5] “following this regrettable incident which the South African government believes could have been handled better.”
An apology does not necessarily mean an admission of guilt because that would include restitution and compensation which has not been evident in the statements, it is a state of detente with the hope that a very important point has been made to Nigeria to put their house in order.
The issues remain
Much as one is encouraged with the idea of more bilateral cooperation between Nigeria and South Africa some issues still need to be attended to and addressed in Nigeria.
The corrupt enterprise of selling Yellow Fever Vaccination cards at the airports must stop and we need to establish reputable travel centres that deal with travel health requirements to countries that demand certain steps be taken, ensuring travellers are observant of those requirements and are not circumventing due process.
The idea that travellers to South Africa without proof of yellow fever vaccination will be vaccinated at the point of entry into South Africa should be terrifying for all sorts of reasons one should leave to the imagination. More importantly, it is better to be vaccinated with a good knowledge of your medical condition than be turnstiled and syringed through the system just to end up the worse for it.
Do NOT use Yellow Fever Vaccine [6] if:
  • You are allergic to any ingredient in Yellow Fever Vaccine or latex rubber
  • You are allergic to eggs, egg products, or chicken protein
  • You have a weakened immune system due to HIV or cancer or are receiving radiation treatment or chemotherapy (e.g., alkylating drugs, corticosteroids)
Candidate Patient Zero
Besides, the Yellow Fever Vaccine only offers full protection 10 days after taking the vaccine, so taking the vaccine at the airport and entering South Africa without having developed the antibodies most likely sets the person up as first vulnerable to infection and then a vector for the disease either in South Africa or when they return home where it might already have been eradicated – the person then takes on the ignominious title of Patient Zero – the concept and proposed solution is just wrong.
Like I opined in 2008, the problem is initially and primarily in Nigeria where we have to deal with sharp and corrupt practices with regards to preparing for international travel but once again like was the case with James Ibori with the United Kingdom convicting our criminals, it has taken the action of an external party to force an issue we should have managed better at home – the hope is the greater lesson is learnt by the so offended Nigeria and Nigerians once we have been sated with the words of the apology.
There is work to be done; Nigeria put your house in order.