Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, is currently fighting for his life, according to information from the Texas Presbyterian Hospital where he is isolated, and his condition has moved from critical to worse.
But while he is fighting for his life, officials in Liberia are plotting for his prosecution, along with others found in deliberately infesting others.
Justice Ministry officials reportedly held a discussion last week on how to prosecute Ebola infected persons who knowingly would infect others.
“This is a serious situation,” said a young man who has followed the crisis involving Mr. Duncan’s trip to the United States. “The situation is critical and has legal implications.”
This has provoked the recent reaction of former Public Works Minister, Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods.
Mr. Woods, speaking at a Carter Center forum at the Emory University’s Department of Ethics and International Studies recently, said it was premature to discuss the innocence or guilt of Mr. Duncan.
Minister Woods was addressing the issue as to whether Duncan knowingly and deliberately planned to mislead authorities when he answered “no” to questions whether he had contact with Ebola patients. But with a clear open-ended question and answer, many Liberians are worried that Mr. Duncan’s action was anything but deliberate.
Though Minister Woods noted that the current situation should rather focused on proper legal representation, he said he would represent Mr. Duncan’s rights to a free and fair trial that guarantees his due process rights.
“The issue of due process indicates that the action by Mr. Duncan should be on the books,” admitted a law student, who asked not to be identified, “for the Justice Minister to want to prosecute any violator may involve human rights issues.”
Indeed there are fundamental issues the Liberian government should take into account, many Liberians interviewed for this article said. This is precisely Attorney Woods’ view.
One has to do with the government’s initial response to the Ebola epidemic.
Like many Liberians, Attorney Woods described Liberian government’s response as, “woeful, inadequate, and disjointed.” And if the government proceeds with the case, Woods said, “we will assemble the best legal team to put the Liberian government on trial, for failing the people of Liberia, rather than Mr. Duncan, a victim of institutional neglect.” That is if Mr. Duncan survives.
Attorney Woods seems to have a case against the Liberian government, as he has indicated his willingness to fight the Duncan case to the end. “We know too well the trail of the countless displays of wholesale impunity, complicity, neglect and abuses that have occurred recently and over the years under the watchful eyes of this Government. The list is endless,” he said.
How can the Liberian government win such a case against Mr. Duncan, if it ever comes to court? But many Liberians are also saying that for a start, what would be the government’s response when Mr. Duncan took the Ebola infested patient to seek medical attention? Did the Liberian government have any initiative to ensure that anyone who takes a sick person to any medical center is questioned and possibly isolated?
“First of all, the Liberian government should set things straight with itself,” said a seller in Monrovia. “Does this government have any tracking system to identify suspected Ebola patients and those who might have come into contact with them?” This is where the major issue is.
Perhaps prosecuting Mr. Duncan can hold ground if what many see as necessary actions are considered first, as suggested by Attorney Woods.
“I have said repeatedly that we continue to commit moral sin and ethical transgression against the poor and weak. It is the poor, weak and powerless that are vulnerable to the caprices of our governments. We ignore their needs and demands, we reward their abusers, turn a blind eye to the theft and abuse that deprive them of basic social services, including health care, yet we are anxious to punish them, even before we gather all the facts. This must stop!”
Admittedly, the Duncan issue is larger than itself. And prosecuting violators may seem to be the best option, but for any success, many Liberians are asking the Liberian government to recognize its own shortcomings, or the effort would be a waste of resources that government has said it did not have. “We don’t need any window-shopping case that may serve as a distraction,” said a local attorney. “We have a larger problem here.”