Health Minister Leads Array of Government Officials for COVID-19 Test

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Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah (left) told reporters that if the coronavirus must leave Liberia, then every citizen, beginning with officials of government, must go for testing; something she notes would build citizens’ trust in the health system.

Encourages the public to follow

By Hannah Geterminah and Simeon Wiakanty

Health authorities, along with several government officials and diplomats over the weekend converged at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Stadium to submit their specimens for testing for the novel coronavirus, an exercise that Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah says other officials of government and the public should do likewise, in order to defeat the pandemic.

“We gather here this morning to do our specimen collections in order to set examples for our citizens to follow”, said the Health Minister, who is on record for disclosing that out of the total 20 COVID-19 deaths in the country, only one had occurred in the treatment center at the 14 Military Hospital.

At the same time, Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah has called on members of the 54th Legislature and Ministers to turn out in their numbers to undergo the COVID-19 test to enable them to know their status in the soonest possible time.

Minister Jallah told reporters that if the coronavirus must leave Liberia, then every citizen, beginning with officials of government, must go for testing; something she notes would build citizens’ trust in the health system.

It can be recalled that after Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean, Deputy Police Director for Administration Sadatu Reeves, Senior Officer of the Drug Enforcement Agency Marcus Zeahyoue, and Information Minister Eugene Nagbe were tested positive for the virus, there was public outcry that President Weah should do his test having met with those officials, but he is yet to comply.

There is public sentiment in some quarters that though the virus exists and is killing people in other parts of the world, it is not the case here as the government says.  All reports about six cases in Nimba County have been challenged by people in the county including some health authorities due to how the cases were reported and circumstances associated with the taking of specimen.

Doctor Jallah informed the public that the decision to lead an array of health officials, including the Country Representative of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization Country Representative to Liberia, Doctor Peter Clement, Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer Doctor Francis Kateh, and the head of USAID Mission among others, is to encourage the public to come forth to give their specimens for testing.

Dr. Peter Clement of the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that it is important that officials of government, particularly those from the health sector, take the lead because it will encourage many Liberians. ”Our meeting here today is a clear manifestation that leaders are interested in curtailing the spread of the virus”, Doctor Clement added.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of Health and Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Francis Kateh, noted that it was very wise to have begun the sample test with themselves rather than waiting on the public. “Now that we have started this process, we want to call on our people to follow; with this, we will defeat this virus.”

Dr. Keteh who spoke earlier on ECOWAS Radio on Saturday, explained that Ebola was not infectious as COVID-19, noting that with Ebola, you have to touch an infected person to contract the virus. “For Ebola, when a person dies, the body becomes more infectious.”

However, Dr. Kateh, at one of the COVID-19 update conferences reinforced President Weah’s reluctance to do his test by saying, “President Weah stands at zero percent risk of contracting the virus from his government official. As such, he can do the test if he wants to but he poses no threat to the public.”

Dr. Kateh’s statement came under heavy criticisms on various local radios during phone-in-talk shows on grounds that if the President who encourages citizens to do their test coming in contact with people tested positive cannot lead by example, then there is no need anyone takes his statement seriously.

The Government of Liberia is planning an all-out lockdown of communities, during which food distributions are expected to be carried out along with mass testing of the population.

Dr. Keteh: “But for COVID-19, when a person dies, we take a specimen and put the body in a body bag and have it kept pending the test result. You can keep the body as long as you want to once it is placed in a freezer.”

Officially, Liberia’s total confirmed a case of the coronavirus is at 229, including 22 deaths and 123 recoveries. Only one of the deaths is reported to have taken place at the 14 Military Hospital under the care of health workers.

The Country Representative of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Doctor Desmond Williams said he was confident that health officials have taken the lead, and it is time for citizens to follow their leaders’ footsteps.

He emphasized that the government had made the pronouncement through health authorities that people should have their samples taken for testing, and they deemed it necessary to key-start the process and therefore everyone should come out to do their test.

Reports emerging from some corners of Monrovia say the government of Liberia is planning to lock down communities during which food distribution will take place and residents will be required to stay at home to allow mass testing.

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