Has ‘Weah’s Project’ Failed?

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The Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) belongs to the same family of diseases as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

“Liberians don’t know how COVID-19 spreads; heath workers and survivors are considered the most trusted sources of information,” says survey sponsored by MOH, NPHIL 

Liberia’s COVID-19 situation might likely get worse, as many of the country’s citizens have “limited knowledge about the spread of the disease,” says a new report.

While this revelation is not entirely new, it is however a startling admission by Liberia’s health authorities who commissioned a survey on Knowledge, Attitude, and Practices about coronavirus virus, the respiratory disease that is rocking havoc on the world.

The survey, conducted by the Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON), shows that survey respondents from 73 electoral districts across the country are less aware of all the symptoms of the virus, and how it spreads.  Overall, all of the 2,251 survey respondents “do not understand how the virus spreads and that people in rural areas are generally less informed on the cause, symptoms, and protection against the disease, compared to people living in urban areas.”

Similarly, the survey report shows that Liberians are less informed on clear-cut practices about “social distancing with only 38% of the respondents saying they wear a mask when going out in public places,” while having limited knowledge about the effectiveness of the mask against the virus.

“It was noticed that half of all focus group participants arrived at venues without masks,” the report added. “They all recognized social distancing as a major challenge.”

Interestingly, the LEON report divulged that a little under 10% of the survey respondents thought that COVID 19 is spread by witchcraft or curses and that prayer would save them. It was also revealed that Liberians outside of Monrovia had “stronger beliefs that eating bitter things would protect them against the virus.”

“[We] think that these kinds of beliefs, without a proper strategy for messaging, could lead to increases in the spread of the virus,” the report added.

What Does this report mean?

If the finding of the survey commissioned by health authorities (Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia) is anything to go by, it means the full reopening of the country by President George Weah ahead of one of the biggest holidays in the country — Independence Day –might be more risky then imagined. This also suggests that the much-publicized ‘Weah’s Project’, the government’s COVID-19 awareness drive led by the President himself, may have failed to live up to its goal of educating Liberians about the virus and how it spreads.

The number of survey respondents might be small but it tells that the government is not addressing one of the main factors responsible for slowing the chain of transmission in the communities — public information about the virus — in order to ensure citizens’ maximum adherence to preventive health measures.

The findings of the survey report also validate claims by many Liberian medical experts including infectious disease expert Dr. Dougbeh Chris Nyan and Dr. Linda Birch, the President of the Liberia Medical and Dental Council (LMDC), that the government, through the Ministry of Health’s coronavirus communication strategy is poor — and responsible for the population violating other health preventive regulations.

Earlier last week, Dr. Birch said: “Dr. [Wilhemina] Jallah’s communication skills and strategies for combating COVID-19 in Liberia are not working and she needs to see that and improve on it.”

A month before that the LMDC statement, Dr. Nyan had voiced concern about the government’s communication strategy that was not effecting behavior change among Liberians towards vigorously following the preventative health measures: social distancing, wearing of nose masks and hand-washing.

“All of this is contributing to the increase in COVID-19 cases in an already weak pandemic control process,” Dr. Nyan said. “I believe that Liberians are largely law-abiding, once given proper instructions by authorities. But in this case, the recent disregard shown towards social-physical distancing and wearing of face mask can be seen as a proportional response to the Liberian government’s improper implementation of the public health preventive regulations we proposed,” Dr. Nyan said.

Other findings

The LEON survey, which was conducted from May 27 to June 4th, 2020, also revealed that outside of Monrovia, where there have been fewer cases of COVID-19, many citizens “think that the disease is not in Liberia or is a western disease and cannot affect Africans.”

In addition, the survey report said, many of the 2,251 respondents doubt the accuracy of the testing process, particularly “because samples taken from patients have to be sent to Monrovia and could get mixed up in the process of transmission.”

“61.5% of the respondents lack confidence in health care, believing that if you contract COVID-19, you would not get good health care at the clinic,” the survey finds.

According to LEON, it was revealed that Radio was by far the most widespread means of getting information for all demographics.

“However, there are other means by which citizens get information; 21% of survey respondents said they received information through visits from local health workers, while 22% had heard information through town criers in towns and villages,” the report said. “It shows that Heath workers were the most trusted source of information while some focus group participants also mentioned that survivors would be good people to hear more from about the disease, its symptoms, and treatment.”

The survey by LEON was conducted in some of Liberia’s most popular counties: Montserrado, Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties, with specific groups of the population to include women, youth leaders, and Elders.

Robin Dopoe contributed to this story.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I fully understand the concern. However, I believe very strongly that more education is needed. People who live in rural areas need to be properly informed. It have a feeling that some people who live in urban areas, Monrovia for instance, possess an arrogant attitude about Covid-19. You tell “some” people in the congested areas of Monrovia to practice social distancing and you somehow get shrugged. I am speaking for myself! All in all, I think more education on the subject of Covid-19 is needed, whether one lives in an urban area of Liberia or not.. On the subject of whether the government is failing….I hope and pray that’s not the case.

  2. I wish Liberians in the rural areas could understand and speak French to tune in to the Ivorian television to know what to do and what not to do.

    You see, these are some of the fundamentals of development that our current rulership doesn’t know. Our past rogues, sociopaths and real heathens failed us lamentably. From 1847 to date, our people in the hinterland who have never ventured in Monrovia do not even know what the city looks like. I heard some say, “We will FIX them all”, when?

    We thought this junky guy had love for Liberia when he came with ClarTV. Unfortunately, he himself could not monitor his own TV station at his home on ELWA Road; the station could not emit beyond central Monrovia.

    How do you expect our people who barely know how to read and write or even understand the spoken English know what they are being told on the radio, Liberia’s cherished and only means of effective communication?
    Demonstrations and illustrations on TV screens have proven to be an effective means of communication over the years.
    When will a Liberia president bring us this FIX? Weah promised us FIXES, we are yet to see him embark on only ONE, eeeeeeeeeeeeeeh my people!

    We must learn to live with the COVID-19. It’s here to stay. In the absence of a vaccine, wearing of masks and social distancing should be the order of the day, my people.

    The wearing of masks must be compulsory in Liberia!

  3. The “C” word that Mr. Dolo has used is relevant to our discussion. Says he, “the wearing of masks must be compulsory in Liberia”. I totally agree! But I would add this, “in addition to wearing masks, gloves must be used by buyers and merchants at all market houses throughout Liberia”. That’s to say, if you go to the market to buy your food, wear your gloves. The person who sells the food that you buy must wear his or her gloves with a face covering. I hope I am right.

    The protection against the spread of Covid-19 has nothing to do with whether a person is an apologist of the ANC or not. This is serious business. The medical authorities of Liberia must insist that masks and gloves be worn regardless of where anyone lives or whatever one’s social status is.

    This is not a sermon.
    Peace

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