Amid COVID-19 Fears, Lassa Fever Still Threatens Nimba County

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Dr. Allen Zomoway, Chief Administrator, Ganta United Methodist Hospital

Amid the growing concerns about Coronavirus (COVID-19) raging across the world, Liberia continues to grapple with Lassa fever outbreak in Nimba County, Liberia’s second-most populous county.

The case in Nimba County, which has been confirmed by Allen Zomoway, Ganta United Methodist Hospital Chief Administrator has so far led to the death of one person.

According to Zomoway, cases of Lassa fever in the county is on the increase as many people are becoming ill, thereby over-stretching the hospital’s ability to respond swiftly to patients with it.

“One case of Lassa fever is an outbreak because it is deadly. Almost every week, we receive a suspected case of Lassa in this hospital, but the sad thing is that the hospital does not have the lab to do the test.  Currently, we have to take a specimen to Phebe Hospital in Gbarnga, Bong County for testing to confirm the case before we can treat the patients,” he said.

According to Ministry of Health data, the country saw a total of 92 suspected cases between January 1 and August 25, 2019, including 21 deaths.

However, since January 2020, Liberia has recorded a total of 55 suspected cases across the country. Among them, a total of 24 confirmed cases with nine associated deaths have been reported from nine health districts in six counties. So far, Grand Bassa and Bong counties account for 20 of the confirmed cases.

Although a number of public health measures have been implemented to include the deployment of response teams to the affected areas, the government has not been able to effectively engage in social mobilization and community engagement strategies targeting vector control and environmental management, especially in endemic areas.

Meanwhile, the Daily Observer visited the hospital to ascertain what mechanism the hospital has put in place to contain any contagious disease, such as the Coronavirus, which is currently raging across the World, knowing that Ganta was one of the epicenters of the Ebola Virus disease in 2014, where there was an isolation unit.

Mr. Zomoway told reporters that the isolation unit for Ebola was destroyed after the Ebola came to an end, but the hospital has a six-bed isolation unit for contagious disease patients and that is where the Lassa fever patients are kept and taken care of.

“The hospital has put in place all mechanisms prescribed by the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) in preventing contagious diseases like Lassa and even the COVID -19,” he said.

The Ganta United Methodist Hospital is one of the largest faith-based hospitals in Liberia and it is located in Ganta, a leading commercial centre in Nimba with close proximity to Guinea. The hospital caters to patients from Guinea, as well as from the Ivory Coast, which is east of Nimba and 50km from Ganta.

Zomoway said while the hospital is making efforts to cater to patients of all kinds of curable treatable diseases, his leadership is bothered by the presence of several wild bats in the trees on the grounds of the hospital. The administrator told reporters that efforts have been applied but there seems to be no solution yet.

He said In consultation with the Police and the city authority of Ganta, hunters were hired to shoot at the wild bats so as to frighten them away but the idea has yielded no good result.

Guinea Border

Although Coronavirus is not in Liberia, the government has put in place some mechanism at the Ganta main border with Guinea for those entering the country.

At the border, Health workers were seen checking the temperatures of people and encouraging them to wash their hands.

Notwithstanding, nowhere has been prepared for isolation in case of any suspected contagious disease and there is no ambulance to move infected patients quickly to the nearby hospital.

“We are taking a risk with our lives at this international border,” shouted a security officer from a distance. The officer, who preferred anonymity, said there are no protective materials for those that are even doing the screening of travelers crossing the border.

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