Dozens of healthcare workers have now been tested positive for the coronavirus as Liberia cases continue to skyrocket.
According to the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), 20 healthcare workers have been confirmed positive carriers of the virus, representing over 27 percent of the country’s 76 cases.
NPHIL in its 32 COVID-19 situation report added that “1,275 contacts, including 223 health workers, have been documented, while a total of 668 (52%) contacts have completed 14 days since exposure.”
Currently, the country has 7 deaths and 7 recoveries. And Isolation cases of “36 to 52, while infection cases range from “one month to 74 years with a median age of 42 years.”
The increase in healthcare workers’ cases comes as a result of coming in contact with infected persons unknowingly, who were seeking medical care. These healthcare workers never had any personal protective equipment while responding to patients.
This situation has prompted the national referral hospital, John F. Kennedy Medical Hospital, and other hospitals to close their OPD services to the population at this critical junction.
In a memo, Dr. Sia Wata Camanor, JFKMC Chief Medical Officer informed workers that, “Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the management of the JFKMC has suspended OPD services in all departments except the Infectious Disease Clinic and the Obstetric Clinic where the total number of patients seen per day in each clinic should not exceed 50.”
According to a source from the hospital, the real reason for the closure of the OPD service is to further prevent the staff from catching the virus since the hospital lacks adequate protective gear to treat OPD patients.
“We do not know who is who, so without protective equipment we may not risk our lives to treat patients. We are not enough, yet most of us are getting ill,” the source said. “The hospital does not have enough protective gear, and it is not just our hospital that doesn’t. The rest also don’t have, and they are complaining. We want to serve, but once we are not getting the support, it is risky. We know this is an exceptional time, but more action is required.”
Although the JFKMC OPD ward has been closed since April 7, Health Minister, Wilhelmina Jallah has cautioned the public and private health facilities to avoid turning away patients seeking medical care.
Minister Jallah added that health facilities need to be considerate of “pregnant women in labor pain and those with other underlying health conditions, to include diabetes, high blood pressure, among others.
The source added, “If the government cannot distribute PPE to healthcare facilities across the country to enable healthcare workers to respond swiftly to curable disease, the worse might happen.”
With the fewer health care workers available now in the country, the continuous increase in cases means the country already fragmented, under-financed, and overburdened health system might not be able to meet the needs of the majority.
The current health situation is a reminisce of the 2014/2015 Ebola outbreak, where patients with curable disease like Malaria shared similar symptoms with Ebola and were denied treatment resulting in the death of many.