It is this time of the year again when the Daily Observer newspaper decides whom to be crowned as their Person(s) of the Year. These are persons, who, in our thinking, made the most significant impact for the betterment of the general Liberian society and humanity.
Our Personalities for this year are the gallant men and women—the health workers—who have been and are directly on the frontline battling the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD).
Included are those who, in combating the outbreak, have fallen, having made the supreme sacrifice, while serving in the line of duty.
The EVD attacked a sub-region which was totally alien to it. West Africa, which includes the Mano River basin, had never seen such an outbreak, which has claimed so many thousands of lives, most especially in the three neighboring countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The disease had always broken out in certain parts of Central and Eastern Africa, especially DR Congo where it began in 1976, as well as Uganda. However, sometime in February this year, reports began emerging about the disease killing people in one of our sisterly nations — Guinea. By the following month, it was at Liberia’s doorstep and its first victim, a Liberian woman, wife of a Guinean national, died of the virus, in Foya District, northern Lofa County. Foya became one of the epicenters of the outbreak. Since March 22 to date, more lives have been lost in Liberia than any of the other affected countries where this deadly disease has occurred.
Included among the dead were health workers who had not been trained in the management of such a ferocious, highly infectious virus outbreak. They became, like other Liberians, among the first casualties.
When health workers were dying in their numbers, most retreated, regrouped and came back to face the enemy, which forced everyone, including them, to put aside one of their cardinal medical principles— adequately touching and caring, for their patients.
We lost some of our best health practitioners to the virus, including Dr. Patrick Nshamdze, a Cameroonian working at the St. Joseph Catholic Hospital; Dr. Thomas Scotland; Dr. Sam Mutooro Muhumuza, a Ugandan working at Redemption; Dr. Samuel Brisbane; Dr. Abraham Borbor and Dr. John Dada. Many nurses and others fell, too, and are still falling as they battle the stubborn, incurable virus.
All of these doctors and other health workers are heroes and heroines. Despite the many difficulties and challenges they faced, particularly the lack of protective gears (PPEs) at the outset of the epidemic, they have tried to live up to their Hippocratic Oath, which requires every new physician to swear, upon a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards. The oath is historically taken by physicians and physicians’ assistants and is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. In unwavering obedience to the oath they swore to uphold these medical practitioners and their support staff stared death in the face each day as they continued treating Ebola infected patients.
While all of the health workers cannot be individually named for the tremendous sacrifices they have all made and continue to make, the few featured below and their gallantry, represent each one of them.
Dr. Jerry Brown, “Liberian Ebola hero”
Dr. Jerry Brown, a Liberian surgeon at the Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) Hospital in Paynesville City who turned the hospital's chapel into the country's first Ebola treatment center, is regarded by many as the “Liberia Ebola hero.”
During a ceremony when ELWA-2, the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) which Dr. Brown runs, was discharging 13 Ebola survivors, outgoing Health and Social Welfare Minister, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, said the nation would draw an Ebola treatment protocol based on the treatment methods developed by Dr. Brown. Several hundred Ebola survivors have been discharged from ELWA-2 ETU under the watchful eyes of Dr. Brown and others.
Dr. Gorbee Logan
Dr. Gorbee Logan, a Liberian medical doctor stationed at a rural public health facility in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, developed an Ebola treatment method which is completely unorthodox.
Dr. Logan administered Lamivudine drug through his protocol to “cure” 10 Ebola patients, with several others on medication in the ETU in the county. Lamivudine is a drug used in the treatment of HIV patients.
He, however, cautioned the Daily Observer that it was too early to say that his experiment was working or if it works effectively against the deadly disease. He said he was determined to carry out the test on as many as 500 patients in order to validate his claim that his prospective protocol works well against the virus.
Dr. Logan also said that the use of Lamivudine drug on Ebola patients was due to some similarity between the Human Immuno Virus (HIV) and the Ebola virus. Several others have been discharged from that ETU at the Government Hospital in Tubmanburg.
Dr. Atai Omruoto
Dr. Atai Omoruoto, a Ugandan medical doctor, at the head of a team of medical specialists from that East African nation, came to Liberia in June at the height of the epidemic. She and her colleagues, who have since departed Liberia, began operating the ETU located within the compound of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center.
She helped to save many lives at the 35-bed facility as part of a team comprising two doctors and seven nurses. Observing the rate of infection at that time, Dr. Omoruto had predicted to our Health Correspondent that the disease would still be around by December this year.
Dr. Omoruto and her team were later moved to the Island Clinic ETU, where many lives were also saved.
Representative Saah Joseph
Representative Saah Joseph, a lawmaker from the opposition bloc, was very instrumental in procuring two ambulances, which were used during the height of the Ebola crisis. On many occasions he donned his hazmat suit (the space suit the health workers wear for protection) and got behind the steering wheel of the ambulance himself to move sick patients from homes and wherever they fell, to the ETUs. The removal of Ebola patients away from their families and communities was crucial to preventing the spread of the deadly virus.
He said many times that he was not being supported by the government and that what he did was of his personal initiative. He is a politician who is indisputably committed to save lives amid the outbreak of Ebola.
Fatu Kerkula, is a young Liberian woman who saved three of her relatives by nursing them back to health after they contracted the Ebola virus disease.
The 22-year-old, who was in her final year of nursing school earlier this year, single-handedly took care of her father, mother, sister and a cousin when they became ill in July. Fatu did so with remarkable success. Three out of her four patients survived. Unfortunately, her cousin died.
Throughout the time she looked after her family, she stayed healthy, which is noteworthy considering that hundreds of health care workers have become infected with Ebola, and she did not even have personal protection equipment (PPE). Instead, she improvised by using garbage bags to cover her body as she went in to treat her patients.
Fatu has now been awarded a scholarship to study in the United States, where she is expected to finish her nursing degree.
Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah and Mr. Dorbor Jallah
The Assistant Health Minister for Preventive Services and head of Incident Management System, Att’y Tolbert G. Nyenswah, and Mr. Dorbor Jallah, former Coordinator, National Task Force on Ebola, now Executive Director, Public Procurement and Concession Committee (PPCC), were given the formidable task of coordinating much of the aid in cash and kind as well as the contingents of personnel arriving into the country to assist Liberia in overcoming the Ebola epidemic.
The Government of Liberia, led by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is at the head of the whole process and deserves commendation for handling the epidemic with determination and confidence that the virus could be beaten. The President was indefatigable in marshalling support from around the world to prevent more deaths in Liberia, the worst hit of the three most affected countries in West Africa.
Standing with health workers and the Liberian Government in the fight are some medical and charitable organizations.
MSF/Doctors without Borders
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders began its Ebola intervention in West Africa in March 2014 and is now operating in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali. The organization runs six Ebola case management centers with a total capacity of more than 600 beds. Since March, MSF has admitted more than 6,400 people, of whom approximately 4,000 tested positive for Ebola and 1,700 have recovered. MSF currently has some 270 international staff working in the region and employs 3,100 locally hired staff.
Having managed with a high degree of success the ETU in Foya, Lofa County, the first Liberian town to be hit by the deadly virus, MSF recently pulled out of Lofa County to focus its attention on areas of greater need as there have been no new reported cases in Foya in last 50 days.
Samaritan’s Purse was one of those organizations, which responded swiftly when the epidemic struck.
Its Country Director, Mr. Kendell Kauffeldt, in a meeting with Vice President Joseph Boakai, said his organization, with the help of partners and donors, was putting forward US$1M in Emergency Response to the Ebola virus.
He had a mandate from SP chief executive officer, Dr. Franklin Graham, to help in the fight against the deadly disease.
Following that conversation, nearly a 100-ton consignment was airlifted to Liberia from the US through the Roberts International Airport (RIA) as a demonstration of the entity’s humanitarian work in Liberia since 2003.
The consignment included personal protective equipment (PPEs), anti-malaria and anti-body drugs, chlorine, buckets, hand gloves and boots, among other items.
Save The Children
Another organization, which left its tradition work and shifted its attention to the fight against the virus, is Save the Children. It constructed an ETU in Suakoko, Bong County and another in Kakata, Margibi County.
Throughout, it has continued to sponsor anti-Ebola radio messages to encourage Liberians to stick to the instructions given by health authorities for fear that reversing the new prevention behaviors would undermine the gains made in the Ebola fight.
The Liberian National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) should be credited for taking up and executing with efficiency and due care, the most tedious and risky mandate under the National Taskforce on Ebola. This has to do with the management of Ebola dead bodies.
Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly once said of the Liberian aid agency: “Red Cross’ robust efforts in mobilizing volunteers to engage in the most risky aspect in the Ebola fight— collecting and burying Ebola corpses from the streets and communities, signifies leadership and heroism.”
Indeed, the institution took up the task and effectively executed its mandate in spite of being handicapped by limited resources and logistical constraints, until goodwill started pouring in.
Nations & Regional Bodies
Indeed, the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China, Norway, Nigeria, the Federal Republic of Germany, India, the United Nations, European Union (EU), the World Bank Group, the African Development Bank, Africa Union (AU) and many other nations came to Liberia’s rescue during its darkest hour. Many of them have sent in medical and paramedical personnel, military personnel and relief items to help Liberia combat the epidemic, the worst health crisis in the history of the nation.
The Liberian Government and people will not forget the impact of this dreadful Ebola epidemic on the nation or the countering power of the goodwill and support of individuals, entities and nations around the world who came to our help. Most especially, the sacrificial work of medical personnel from many nations and our own, who confront the deadly Ebola enemy every day, must not go unrecognized and without our gratitude.