-As GOL preliminarily allots $1.5 million
By Leroy Sonpon, III and J. Burgess Carter
With the World Health Organization having declared the Coronavirus a global public health emergency as of Thursday, January 30, the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NAHIL) are requesting US$3 million from the government to initiate prevention measures against the rapidly spreading outbreak, which is reportedly more deadly than the Ebola virus.
Besides China from where the virus originated, eight cases have been reported in four African countries; Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Equatorial Guinea.
The coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause a range of symptoms including a running nose, cough, sore throat and fever. Some are mild, such as the common cold, while others are wide to lead to pneumonia. The incubation of Coronavirus is between 14 – 21 days, and it is an air-borne disease that can be transmitted from one person to another through the air (sneezes and coughing) and through touching (fluid and blood).
Liberia’s Acting Director-General of the NPHIL, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, said that coronavirus disease has also been identified in France, Germany, Canada, India, Finland and the USA of which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday confirmed five cases of the deadly coronavirus in the USA.
He said though the one suspected case in the Ivory Coast has been tested negative, there is no safe country, and therefore Liberia must enhance its screening, monitoring, and surveillance at every entry point and every health center or hospital.
He said the world is at ‘Code Red’ for the Coronavirus. “The coronavirus disease can be transmitted without symptoms, it’s fast, deadly, an air-borne disease and can be transmitted by touching,” Dr. Fallah intoned.
“As of Wednesday, 6,711 cases were identified but this morning, it was reported that 7,711 cases have been confirmed in China. So it means that the fast-evolving and deadly coronavirus affects 1,000 persons daily,” Dr. Fallah said.
Dr. Fallah made the assertions on Thursday, January 30 — during the House’s 7th day sitting. He added that the 4455 emergency number has been activated, screening at the Robert International Airport (RIA) has been enhanced and the manifestos of passengers that have arrived from China in a month’s time has been followed.
Dr. Fallah also said over 100 Liberian students studying in China are expected back home because their schools are shut down as a result of the coronavirus disease. The NPHIL and Health Ministry according to him are preparing to receive them, but need authorization for quarantine.
Liberia’s Medical Officer and Deputy Health Minister Dr. Francis Kateh announced that US$3 million is needed to prepare and furnish the Precaution Observer Centers (or quarantine centers); create the case management system, equip laboratories, fund the psychological support groups, employ and equip more surveillance workers, purchase personal protective equipment, including gloves, mask among others.
He said since January 22, health authorities have issued the first preventive measures on the “washing of hands” at all public buildings. He appealed to the Legislature to insert washing stations at the Capitol Building and members of the Legislature must always wash their hands and be screened, and their temperature checked.
“At a certain point in time, masks will be distributed in the communities and we need more of them,” Dr. Ketteh said.
Representatives Maima Briggs Mensah, Byron Zahnwea, Mike Jurry, Abu Kamara, Samuel Kogar, Ben Fofana, Ivar Jones Richard Koon, and Joseph Somwarbi encouraged the House of Representatives to approve the US$3 million for the health authorities to initiate early preventive measure.
Representative Vicent Willie urged the health authorities to also make the outbreak of Lassa Fever in the country an emergency because cases are confirmed in Bong and Grand Bassa Counties.
Meanwhile, Representative Dixon Seboe, upon hearing an announcement that Redemption Hospital is one of the quarantine centers for those infected with the coronavirus disease, seriously took an exception and said the Borough of New Kru Town is very populated for infected coronavirus patients, which is spread by air-borne and touching, and therefore Redemption Hospital cannot be an ideal place.
He further argued that some nurses are careless and would indirectly spread the virus. In response, Dr. Kateh said the quarantine centers are built in line with international standards to hold any kind of disease, and the nurses are trained to handle infected diseases. As for the Lassa Fever outbreak, Dr. Fallah of NPIHL said more has been done in the counties, including treatment and prevention as well purchasing of cutlasses and shovels for residents to clean their communities to drive away rats because Lassa fever is carried by rats.
House Speaker Dr. Bhofal Chambers thanked the two health experts and said the House will draw-up the appropriate resolution for the funding after consultations.
Ahead of request by the health authorities to make available US$3 million for intervention in the overclouding health issue, the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has appropriated the amount of US$1.5 million towards the Coronavirus disease, according to Senator(Dr) Peter Sonpon Coleman.
The latest appropriation comes when health authorities including Mosoka Fallah of National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) and Deputy Health Minister Francis Kateh had appeared before the House of Representatives requesting the government to allott the health sector US$3 million to prepare for the disease as it rapidly spreads across the world.
Briefing the Senate yesterday on the preparation of any possibility of the virus entering the country, Senator Coleman asserted that the government’s decision is intended to keep the health sector prepared to avoid the unfortunate situation that occurred during the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak.
The Senator who chairs the Senate Committee on Gender, Health, and Social Welfare informed his colleagues that the chairs of the Ways, Means, and Finance of both Houses are knowledgeable about the appropriation made by the Ministry of Finance, and assured that they will definitely bring same before the Legislature.
Dr. Coleman was responding to a concern raised by Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence on the need to document everything that will be useful to start preparing for any eventuality of an outbreak. “We are concerned about the resources and what kind of capacity we have to handle such a situation; because we have a serious issue with the health system, with some hospitals down. I think it will be fair for us to have that documented, and to have the proper thing done when it comes to expenditure and planning, because we don’t know to what extent this will go, it might require more money and we don’t want to start making that mistake from the beginning.”
Senator Coleman disclosed that documentation is being concluded through the collaboration with Liberia’s international partners, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC) through its West Africa sub-office in Accra, Ghana.
Dr. Coleman further disclosed that infrastructure is being erected where would-be infected individuals are to be taken care of, and that daily update is now taking place at the Ministry of Health on the Coronavirus. The government, Senator Coleman intimated, will soon be reintroducing the precaution method used during the outbreak of the Ebola virus-washing hands and avoiding handshake, and may include using mask if the country gets a confirmed case.
The Grand Kru County Senator also told plenary that about 311 people who entered the country from China this month are being traced and will be tested for symptom of the virus.
With regard to Liberian students and ordinary citizens currently in the affected areas in China, Dr. Coleman said the government has decided that instead of bringing them home, they stay in areas where they are already quarantined where they can get better care in an improved health environment.
As of last evening, there were reports of several countries evacuating their nationals from the epic center of the virus in Wuhan Province, as confirmed cases in China are now over 8,000, with deaths of 171.
Meanwhile, Vice President and President of the Liberian Senate, Jewel Howard Taylor, yesterday presided over the 6th sitting of the 3rd Session of the Senate, the first this month and last sitting day in January.