Liberia Health CSOs Network (LiHCON) has called on the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Health (MOH) to ensure that the response mechanisms for COVID-19 are gender-responsive, considering that women are the first line of caregivers for sick family members.
Joyce L. Kilikpo, the chairperson of LiHCON, made the recommendations Tuesday, March 31, 2020, at a press conference indicating that “There should be uninterrupted access to sexual and reproductive health services to women and adolescent girls, as well as healthcare services for ‘key populations,’ and people with intersecting needs.”
Madam Kilikpo who is also the Executive Director for Public Health Initiative Liberia (PHIL) calls for mental health and psychosocial support to be provided for frontline health workers, affected families, those in care and survivors of COVID-19.
She called on the government to ensure that infection prevention and control supplies and equipment are available, accessible, and equitably distributed across Liberia for health workers within the public health system as well as ensure that private health facilities are providing the same for their health workforce.
“Government must be in readiness for the health system to manage the outbreak and ensure essential Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (RMNCAH) services are not interrupted as the country now has three confirmed cases of COVID-19. This includes access to family planning services & commodities, access to Basic Emergency Obstetric Care (Bmoc) and Emergency obstetric care (Emoc), Antenatal & Post-natal services, labor & delivery, routine immunization services, and services for TB, HIV and Malaria,” she said.
She said with social distancing and self-isolation, the availability of alternative options should be clearly communicated to ensure women, adolescent girls, and vulnerable populations continual access to these vital services.
Madam Kilikpo said LiHCON joins in solidarity with the global community in efforts to manage and halt the further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic cases.
“Ensure counties and communities are prepared to respond to COVID-19: reactivate designated community treatment centers and Interim Care Center as it was during the Ebola outbreak to ensure adequate space for isolation, quarantine, treatment and psychosocial support,” she said.
She continued: “That research attempts, including clinical trials, will be common and some of these may threaten the key ethical and human rights principles of research. We therefore call upon the state to pay serious attention to the right to health implication ensuring that the ‘Do No Harm’ principles are adhered to.”
Madam Kilikpo said calls for Civil Society Organizations, Faith Institutions, Traditional Institutions, are strategically mobilized around actionable strategies in curbing the COVID-19 pandemic. Lessons learned from Ebola showed that these institutions’ robust engagement in the fight against Ebola saw a significant shift in gains made against the spread of the disease in our country.
“All coordinating platform established in relation to COVID-19 preparedness and response – Incidence Management System and its pillars – should include representation of Civil Society Organizations reflecting the diversity of its constituents. This will ensure transparency, accountability in the response and sustain outcomes for post-COVID-19 intervention,” she said.
“Ensure the decentralization of diagnostic test kits and supplies to enhance equitable access and rapid response. Healthcare workers both in private and public facilities are provided adequate incentives and the right training, skills, equipment, resources, and supplies to respond to COVID-19 and other health needs of the population,” she said.
She said there is a need for risk communication and community engagement to be robust and efficient to counter rumors and misinformation surrounding COVID-19 response in Liberia. To ensure transparency and strengthen trust-building between policymakers, service providers and service users.
Madam Kilikpo said the government must ensure to improve WASH in health facilities. This includes access to handwashing facilities, clean and safe drinking water and sanitation within the public and private health facilities to enhance infection prevention and control. To this end, the need for urgent government commitment, investment, and resources to scale up access cannot be overemphasized.
LiHCON fully embraces prevention measures recommended by the World Health Organization and the Liberian government, these include use of sanitizers; frequent washing of hands with soap; social distancing; self-isolation; use of disinfectants; avoiding touching mouth, nose, and eye, with unwashed hands and covering coughs and sneezes, among others.
She said as government and its partners take steps in dealing with this outbreak, “We would wish to remind us all that we need to urgently strike a balance between these preventive approaches and rights with collective responsibilities.”
Government responses to COVID-19 should be hinged on a Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to ensure that the virus is curbed without biases, violating people’s rights, which would further endanger the lives and livelihoods of the citizens, especially the most vulnerable, to prevent the reoccurrence of the “Sheki Kamara incident” during the Ebola response quarantine in West Point.