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Just like a repeat of history, the year 1918 was significant for two major events of which Nigeria was a partaker – the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Spanish Influenza pandemic.

A few years before, Nigeria had just amalgamated its territories and provinces in 1914 under the supervision of Lord Frederick Lugard to become a single entity named ‘Nigeria’. It was under this name that the British colonial masters sent men from the regions in Nigeria to fight in the war which began in 1914.

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As the first world war was partly over the squabbles between the European nations over how Africa is shared between them like piecemeal, the Nigerian Regiment in the war mostly saw action in the Cameroons and then in German East Africa from 1916 to 1918.

Then the viral pandemic hit the world like wildfire. People all over the world were just reeling from the effects and the loss which the war had dealt them, but the influenza onset was going to kill more people than the total lives lost in the war.

The first human case in Lagos was discovered on September 14 1918 by Dr Gray, a colonial medical officer. He discovered 3 crew men of the SS Panayiotis to be seriously ill – lying on the Iddo wharf opposite the island.

According to the Public Record Office (PRO), the 3 crewmen were moved to the infectious disease hospital in Ikoyi after they were diagnosed with the disease. The ship was grounded and disinfected by the sanitary authority. Yet, the rate of the spread and infection in Lagos were rapid and devastating.

The tales from other nations which the Flu had ravaged earlier made the discovery in Lagos even more dramatic. It created an anxiety with the news of its virulent features and thus made every illness in Lagos susceptible to being described as influenza.

The virus was transmitted from person to person by the respiratory tract, with a short incubation period of24–27 hours – a major reason why the virus could spread rapidly. In serious cases, the symptoms included bleeding from the nose, bloody sputum, bacterial pneumonia complications and lung failure.

The outbreak of the influenza caught the colonial government by surprise and by the time the preventative and curative policies would have proved effective, more than 2 million Nigerians were already dead in a matter of weeks.

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There are notions that if the end of the war had not set in motion the return of troops to their nations and trade had not began immediately, the reach of the Influenza would have been limited and might never have affected Nigeria and Africa so bad.

Now approximately running into 101 years, and while the globalised world was still in infancy, Nigeria reeled from the sudden tragedy of the Influenza pandemic just about when it was bidding farewell to its role in the First World War.

The world is currently dealing with a flu-like epidemic but with a less virulent and less fatal characteristic when compared with the influenza of 1918. The world has come a long way in the management of pandemics and just like the 1918 episode of the Spanish Influenza was conquered, we shall overcome the Coronavirus too.


Academia. Edu

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This article was first published on 19th March 2020


Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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