Nigerian official warns pastors and healers to stop making false Ebola-cure claims


Lateef Aderemi Ibirogba, left, Lagos state commissioner for information and strategy, at a news conference with Jide Idris, the state's health commissioner. (Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters)

African governments are doubling down on efforts to contain the widening Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which also involves combating rumors and falsehoods about the disease.

In Nigeria, there has been only one confirmed Ebola death: A Liberian man traveling through the Lagos airport collapsed, then succumbed to the virus.

But to tackle the dangerous and potentially deadly rumor mill, a government official in Lagos state has issued a stern warning: Pastors claiming to have cured Ebola could face jail time, according to CAJ News Africa:

Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Aderemi Ibirogba, specifically advised the citizenry to be wary of the activities of alleged fraudsters who were reportedly making spurious claims about their ability to provide cure for the deadly virus.

He called on those who wanted to rip off members of the public to desist from such claims of cure or risk arrest and prosecution.

"Only medical solutions are known to be appropriate for the disease," said Ibirogba.

That may seem obvious, but given the continued spread of the virus, it has become necessary. Ebola is not particularly easy to contract — someone has to come in contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. But in many cases, the disease spreads further when infected people avoid medical help or seek out traditional healers.

For example, earlier this week, a Nigerian pastor, Ituah Ighodalo, wrote a Facebook post that highlighted a "solution to Ebola!"

The post — which was factually incorrect — was focused on the story of a Canadian-American Pentecostal pastor and faith healer by the name of John G. Lake, who operated a ministry in Africa in the early 1900s.

"Several years ago, Ebola virus erupted in Africa, killing thousands without restrain or cure," Ighodalo wrote. "A great man of God by the name John G Lake came to the rescue. Laying hands on infected people who were not to be touched."

Well, not quite: As the World Health Organization helpfully notes, the Ebola virus first emerged in 1976 — 41 years after Lake's death.

Anyway, Ighodalo continued: "[W]ith bare hands, cleaning secretion and curing every victim, John G Lake along with his Holy Ghost filled team, brought to an abrupt end the spread of the deadly virus. When asked by the medical world how he did it. He had this to say: I have the life of God in me, every virus that comes in contact with me dies."

Ighodalo added: "That higher life that put out Ebola in the days of John G Lake will do the same through you in your day! At the Name of Jesus, Ebola will bow out! Stop the fear!"

And: "Let this message of hope and faith go viral and the Ebola viral spread will stop!"

Of course, there is no cure for Ebola.

Between 60 and 90 percent of people who contract the virus die; the current Ebola outbreak has claimed 729 lives in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, according to the WHO.

In a subsequent Facebook post, Ighodalo — who, according to his Facebook page, has several degrees, including a combined economics and accounting degree from the University of Hull in England — tried to walk back his previous statements.

"I am not in any way...attempting to deny the existence of the virus in Nigeria, or to encourage anyone to seek interaction with the virus, but rather to assert a superior truth that is consistent with the scriptures and stir the faith of those of us who are believers in Christ Jesus," he wrote.

While churches, healing houses and traditional healers can play a critical role by alerting public health officials to potential Ebola cases, Nigerian officials have been forced to warn them not to try healing Ebola patients themselves, according to local news reports:

Speaking at a press briefing in Lagos, Professor Abdulsalami Nasidi of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said some of the affected people with EVD in neighbouring countries might want to come to Lagos, Nigeria, where there were many healing houses that claim to have cure for diseases. ...

He explained that in regions where EVD had killed many people, some of the victims had flocked to healing houses for cure, but ended up spreading the virus, with the supposed healers contracting the deadly virus.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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