Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh was the lead physician and endocrinologist at a family clinic in Lagos, Nigeria. She had never seen Ebola before but was able to properly diagnose, contain, and resist pressure to release Nigeria’s index Ebola patient in July 2014. However, because the health system was not prepared for an outbreak at the time, she contracted Ebola and died. Her heroic efforts prevented a major outbreak in the most populous African country and served as the catalyst for government action.
As a result of her keen perception, courage, and steadfastness, all 20 Ebola cases in Nigeria were traced to a single path of transmission originating with the first (index) patient. This is what differentiated the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria from the outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Due to her actions, Nigeria was able to contain the virus and the World Health Organization declared Nigeria Ebola-free on October 20th 2014.
At the age of 24, Dr. Adadevoh graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree from the University of Lagos College of Medicine. She subsequently completed her Fellowship in Endocrinology at Hammersmith Hospital of the Imperial College in London. She then joined First Consultants Medical Centre in Obalende, Lagos, Nigeria where she worked for twenty-one years and became the Lead Consultant Physician and Endocrinologist.
Dr. Adadevoh was a member of the Nigerian Medical Association, Medical Women Association of Nigeria, British-Nigerian Association, Endocrine and Metabolism Society of Nigeria, Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria, and National Postgraduate Medical College. She served as a Non-Executive Director of Learn Africa Plc and a writer for the first-ever “Ask the Doc” column in Today’s Woman Magazine, among other accomplishments.
Dr. Adadevoh’s family lineage reinforces her role as a patriot, leader, and heroine. Her paternal great grandfather, Herbert Samuel Macaulay, was a prominent politician and is considered to be the founding father of Nigerian nationalism. He established the first political party and his portrait is on Nigeria’s one naira coin. Her maternal grandfather was the first cousin of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria, a respected modern nationalist, and one of the most revered politicians in Nigerian history. Her father, Babatunde Kwaku Adadevoh, was a renowned physician, distinguished scientist, lecturer, author, and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos. He served as a consultant and advisor to numerous international organizations such as the World Health Organization and several United Nations agencies and commissions.
In 2012, H1N1 (swine flu) spread to Nigeria and Dr. Adadevoh was the first doctor to diagnose and alert the Ministry of Health. Less than two years later, she was again the first doctor to identify another contagious virus – this one much deadlier than the first.
On July 20th 2014, Patrick Sawyer – Nigeria’s first Ebola patient – left quarantine in Liberia and flew to Nigeria to attend a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He collapsed at the airport in Lagos and was taken to First Consultants Medical Centre (FCMC) where Dr. Adadevoh worked. Under normal circumstances as an ECOWAS official, he might have been taken to a government hospital, but the doctors at all federal facilities were on an indefinite strike because ongoing negotiations with the government failed to meet their requests.
The first doctor at FCMC who saw Mr. Sawyer diagnosed him with malaria. When Dr. Adadevoh saw him during her ward round the following day, she suspected Ebola despite the initial malaria diagnosis and the fact that she, and no other doctor in Nigeria, had never seen Ebola before. Being the thorough clinician she was, Dr. Adadevoh questioned Mr. Sawyer about his worsening symptoms and although he denied having contact with anyone with Ebola, she immediately contacted the Lagos State and federal Ministries of Health and got him tested.
While waiting for the test results, the patient and other Liberian government officials began insisting that Dr. Adadevoh discharge him so he could attend the ECOWAS conference. She refused. They proceeded to threaten to sue her for kidnapping and a violation of human rights (holding him against his will because she did not have a confirmed diagnosis) but she continued to resist their relentless pressure. She understood the importance of containing him.
Lagos State – and Nigeria as a whole – was not ready for Mr. Sawyer. There were no protocols, processes, or equipment in place within the health system to deal with an Ebola patient so Dr. Adadevoh did what she could with the limited resources she had in the hospital. Nigeria had no isolation facility at the time and the infectious diseases hospital in Lagos was not functional, so she worked with officials to create an isolation area in the hospital to continue his treatment. Patrick Sawyer’s Ebola diagnosis was later confirmed, and he died at FCMC.
Dr. Adadevoh’s Ebola diagnosis resulted in the Nigerian government mobilizing the necessary resources to deal with an Ebola outbreak. Her actions allowed for a much more strategic containment of the virus across the country as the Nigerian government was able to successfully trace all possible contacts from the index patient Patrick Sawyer. There were 20 Ebola cases total. 8 were healthcare workers. Of those healthcare workers, 4 survived and 4 died, including Dr. Adadevoh.
Her sacrifice prevented a national catastrophe in a country of more than 170 million people. This may not have been the case if Mr. Sawyer ended up in a different hospital under the care of a different doctor, which is why DRASA is committed to building capacity and strengthening the health workforce. We will work to ensure Nigeria’s healthcare system is well-prepared for the next outbreak or public health threat.