COVID-19 Recoveries Increase as More Health Workers Get Infected

Dr. Mosoka P. Fallah, Director General, NPHIL

Health authorities in Liberia have reported that nearly two dozen or more people have recovered from COVID-19 in Liberia, the country’s largest one-day recovery so far.

There are, however, conflicting figures about the exact number of recoveries, with Dr. Mosoka Fallah reporting 20 recoveries and Dr. Francis Kateh reporting 26 recoveries. Up to the publication of this story, an NPHIL spokesperson could not confirm from the Institute’s data center the exact figure.

Whatever be the figure, the encouraging number of recovery cases coincides with concerning news that so far, 29 health workers have contracted the Coronavirus, in addition to one health worker who has already succumbed to the virus.

With 665 tests done so far, which is less than 50 per day, the country’s COVID-19 cases are expected to increase as high-risk contact continue to grow—a situation which might soon lead to overcapacity and precautionary observation centres (POC).

If that happens, the government has planned to initiate home-quarantine for high-risk contacts in order to avoid the total breakdown of the country’s 77 POC.

In its 36th situation report, the National Public Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) has said that it has recorded 1,432 contacts including 246 health workers with infection age ranging from 1 month to 74 years and median age of 41 years.

The report added out of the 105 confirmed cases, 65 are isolation and 659 (18 new) samples have been tested so far with more expected in the coming days.

According to Dr. Mosoka Fallah, Liberia’s chief infectious disease expert, the health authorities are deliberating on additional measures, which include the re-fencing of Montserrado County, the epicentre of the virus, to contain it from spreading into communities to unaffected areas.

“If you look at the epidemiology of the disease, there are more communities with cases than the other. Basically, we will re-fence Montserrado into the high and low-risk zones. If you are from the high-risk zone, you might be told to either stay within the confines of your community or we will set up check-points to do daily temperature check and through screening.

Dr. Fallah Worries about Health Care Workers

Dr. Fallah added the most scaring part in the battle of the COVID-19 is the high infection rate among health care workers, who are the frontline workers.

Dr. Fallah, who is the Director-General of NPHIL, said: “as long as the disease continues to spread, health care workers remain at great risk”, but they are working to control the high rate of infection among health care workers.

Dr. Fallah’s fear comes as health care workers across the country continue to see patients without protective equipment due to the country’s limited capacity.

And with the fewer health care workers available, the continuous increase in cases means the country already fragmented, under-financed, and overburdened health system might not be able to meet the needs of the majority.

As such condition remain unaddressed, several public run hospitals, including the nation’s largest referral hospital, John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital and other private hospitals are closing their out-patient ward (OPD) and turning patients away for fear of the unknown, making it difficult for patients with curable illnesses to access treatment.

“We do not know who is who, so without protective equipment, we may not risk our lives to treat patients. We are not short-staffed, yet most of us are getting ill,” said a medical doctor from JFKMC. “The hospital does not have enough protective gear, and it is not just our hospital that doesn’t. The rest also don’t have, and they are complaining. We want to serve, but once we are not getting the support, it is risky. We know this is an exceptional time, but more action is required.”

With limited time left to save health care workers, especially now that community transmission takes centre stage, Dr. Fallah said the country might soon copy China’s model of shutting down most clinics in order to have few open to be used as a fever clinic. The fever clinic, according to Dr. Fallah, is intended to screen people seeking treatment and scale-up testing in order to help the country flatten the infection rate.

“It will be that massive level of testing. Another method is to isolate high-risk contacts at the 77 POCs across the country. If the number increases beyond capacity, we will work with communities’ leadership to allow home quarantine,” Dr. Fallah said.

Meanwhile, former senator John Ballout, a COVID-19 survivor, has said the 14 Military Hospital, which the government is using to treat those who have contracted the disease, lacks an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), standard laboratory, oxygen and X-ray machines, among other vital tools, to treat patients.

According to Ballout, while at the facility, some of the nurses fell ill, a dire sign for the country.

“We need to [do] serious work on the health sector,” he said.


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