COVID-19 Incident Management System Intensifies Community Engagements

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Community leaders attending the MIA engagement

The COVID-19 Incident Management System’s Engagement Pillar is intensifying its activities in Monrovia; bringing together community heads and finding out from them their doubts and reservations about the fight against the disease.

Unlike other approaches, some of which involve contact tracing and community outreach that sensitize people about the prevalence of the disease, the Ministry of Internal Affairs is now adding what is considered as palava hut engagement that brings the citizens closer to the government to understand how the pandemic is being managed and the extent of the progress made.

Earlier, it was mandated that people avoid coming together in large groups, so as to prevent the spread of the virus since it is airborne and can easily be contracted from sneezing and coughing.  However, these measures, though in place, it seems not to be as effective as it should be, according to Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah.

“The measures put in place are not working; we had 3 p.m. in place and people were going home at 4 p.m., and now we have gone 6 p.m. and people are going home 6:30.  When people are given masks to use, they sell them and some do not use them properly,” said Minister Jallah.

Therefore, in order to have the people involved, Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf together with the Government and Community Pillar of the Incident Management System are using the face to face engagement to solicit views from residents in an effort to collaborate to observe the protocols and to voluntarily do sample testing to know their status.

At one of the engagements meeting at the Martor Guest House in the Soul Clinic Community in Montserrado County District #4 on May 30, 2020, Minister Sirleaf said:  “We have come here to explain to you, or expand on what you have been hearing.  We have come to engage you to cultivate means how to fight COVID-19 as we did during the Ebola.”

Minister Sirleaf added:  “We want to protect our citizens because if they are protected, the government is protected; this is why we are here.  Community leaders can mobilize their people to do their sample testing and we can call the Minister of Health and her team to do this so we can know how far the virus is spreading or not.”

In spite of the reported increase in confirmed cases that up to May 30 Liberia stood at 273, Minister Sirleaf said recovery was high as compared to death; something he said is good news and that Coronavirus is not a ‘death sentence’ but people come down with it and recover.

“Ministers and other people have been to the treatment center and recovered.  Let us help fight this disease because it is true that it is here.  Let us do our sample test,” Minister Sirleaf added.

Minister Sirleaf explaining to participants about engagement

Adding to Minister Sirleaf, Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, said: “We have been doing contact tracing, but we thought we should go to communities to hear what’s happening.  The army at the Health Ministry is not enough, the one at the international community is not enough to help.  Therefore, we have come to you because we know that with your participation we can do better.”

According to Dr. Jallah, the more samples they collect, health authorities will know the extent to which the virus has spread or is contained and, by the result various restrictions that are in place, will be relaxed and people will go about their normal businesses.

World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative, Dr. Peter Clement also told over 75 community leaders that gathered for the engagement that the government alone cannot fight the disease to defeat it, but the collaborative efforts of all citizens.

“Community leaders, the private sector, and religious leaders must all come together to fight the disease, and to fight, we must be able to identify, test and get treatment when we are positive,” said Dr. Clement.

The community leaders were also privileged to ask questions and expressed their reservations about how the Coronavirus fight is being handled.

Some expressed fear that they may feel well and decide to do their test, but health authorities would come out with positive results for them which may cause them to be stigmatized.

Others raised concern that the death of the senior Drug Enforcement Agency officer brought stigma to them, while some also expressed their disdain over how materials like buckets and detergents meant for hygiene are unfairly distributed and very less in quantity to spread across a large segment of the population.

Yet some expressed that while they know that the virus exists and is raging the world, information surrounding it in Liberia is full of distortion and does not come from health officials but the Information Ministry.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jallah clarified that the Information Ministry serves as the arm of government for information dissemination, and whatever information they have can be given out by that ministry when instructed to do.

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