Following an hour of an emotionally charged debate, the Senate plenary Thursday, July 17, voted to mandate its leadership to immediately join their House of Representatives counterparts to ask President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to declare “a state of health emergency,” in wake of the alarming spread of the Ebola disease.
“The motion suggests that immediately upon the adjournment of this session, the leadership of the Senate proceeds to the House of Representatives, and that the two leaderships proceed to the President and ask that a state of health emergency be imposed, and that US$1.5 million be made available to the Ministry of Health to tackle the Ebola.”
The Senate’s decision followed a report by the Chairman on the Committee on Gender, Health, Social Welfare, Women and Children Affairs, Dr. Peter Sonpon Coleman on the Ebola epidemic, in which he reported an increase in the spread of the disease.
The Senators were unanimous in expressing dismay over the delay in finding money to help the health sector, with some painting gloomy pictures of what may happen if the Legislature fails to move immediately to make the necessary appropriation from the pending 2014/2015 national budget, if it comes to that.
As a demonstration of their serious concern about the spread of the epidemic, some Senators suggested that the President declare an immediate state of emergency, while Senate Pro Tempore disclosed to his colleagues that in his recent interaction with President Sirleaf, he suggested that she declares a state of emergency.
According to the report read to the Senate plenary during its 48th day sitting Thursday, said since March 22, 2014 to July 15, 2014, the total number of Ebola cases has reached 173, with Lofa County carrying the highest number of 110 cases; Montserrado County with 55 and Margibi five, while Bomi and Nimba Counties had two each; and Bong County one case. The total number of cases among health workers is currently put at 13; while the total number of death cases is put to 111, with Lofa and Montserrado Counties again carrying the highest number of 58 and 46, respectively, while Margibi and Bomi are reporting five and two.
The Coleman-led Health Committee disclosed that the number of patients admitted in isolated units is 22; with a breakdown of 17 for Lofa and five for Montserrado.
The report said the Ministry of Health has managed to trace 236 persons who may have been in contact with people with the Ebola case. Newly reported contacts as of July 15, 2014 are 25, according to the report.
The committee’s report identified challenges in the areas of the number of burial teams in Montserrado and Lofa; the need to provide funding for compensation of contact tracers in the counties; the need to provide vehicles for supervision and contact tracing teams in the seven affected counties, Lofa, Montserrado, Margibi, Bomi, Nimba, Bong, and Grand Gedeh, referred to as response counties.
The report further said the Ministry needs logistical support and training for other counties referred to as alert counties.
With respect to finance to fight the epidemic, the report said the amount of US$100, 000 per affected county has been provided by the government of Liberia; while it said the US$500,000 pledged by the Nigerian Government has not yet been assessed.
“It is evident that this epidemic has now spread to six of the 15 counties, and the number of deaths is increasing alarmingly and it is important that the necessary funding be provided to the health sector to stop the transmission of the virus and prevent avoidable death among our people. We, therefore, appeal to our colleagues to get involved in social mobilization, awareness and sensitization campaigns to help halt the rapid spread of the epidemic.”