Senate Calls Ebola National Emergency

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The Liberian Senate Tuesday, July 8, requested its leadership to meet with their counterparts at the House of Representatives for a joint meeting to discuss the alarming spread of the Ebola disease and strategize on how to contain it.

According to the Senate plenary, which Tuesday agreed that the disease should be considered a national emergency, the meeting which is expected today, Wednesday, should also include the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and members of the relevant international bodies, such as World Health Organization (WHO).

The meeting among other things will gather from the Health Ministry how much it needs in both finance materials to combat or contain the Ebola disease which all the lawmakers agreed may soon become a national catastrophe if it is not given the necessary attention.

During the early announcement of the outbreak in March, the Liberian Government appropriated an amount of US$250,000 out of US$1.2 million requested by the Health authorities, which was intended to purchase medical gears for health workers. There are now reports that the Ministry of Health needs more funding as the death rate from the disease increases daily.

The Senate’s decision to call the meeting followed a briefing from the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Gender, Health, Social Welfare, Women and Children Affairs, Senator, Dr. (MD) Peter Coleman, who gave a fearful graphic picture of how fast the disease is spreading.

“If we do not act aggressively now and it starts to spread to the counties, it will be more deadly,” Senator (Dr.) Coleman warned his colleagues.

The Senator lamented that some residents of Montserrado County are still refusing to accept the fact of the existence of Ebola, and disclosed that some people whose relatives died from the disease are now stealing those bodies for apparent traditional ritual and private burial.

Churches, he said, are not helping the situation, as some pastors are taking those infected with the disease to their churches for prayers, subsequently passing on the disease to other members of their congregation.

Senator Coleman informed his colleagues that at least 138 persons have been reported confirmed, suspected and probable of the virus. Of this number, he told his fellow lawmakers that 43 have been confirmed dead from the virus.

The Grand Kru lawmaker  further disclosed that the case   fatality of the disease is about 70%, which he said indicates the ruthlessness of the disease that is spreading. Up to date, the cases are mainly reported in Lofa and Montserrado counties, with one case and one death in Margibi County.

Speaking on the issue during the debate that lasted more than two hours, Senator H. Dan Morais suggested that a state of emergency be declared, and that those areas seriously infected be quarantined and condoned and the Army being deployed to enable health workers to deal with the disease, conduct a house-to-house search for those who are hiding people with the disease in their homes. “We need to be robust and must not continue to live in the state of denial that it doesn’t exist or it is not in this area.  My suggestion may seem radical, but I think there is a need for stringent action.”

But Senator Coleman disagreed, saying the situation has not reached the stage of a state of emergency, but rather suggested a vigorous sensitization campaign be organized that will include the media.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Senator Joseph Nagbe, has questioned the usage of money earlier appropriated to the Health Ministry for outfits needed for nurses and doctors who attend to those suspected of carrying the virus.

Other Senators seemed to have agreed with Senator Nagbe’s argument and revealed that health workers, mainly nurses in some hospitals and health centers, who lack the appropriate medical gear, are running away from people suspected of being Ebola patients.

Some Senators even disclosed that the international community has already made financial and material contributions.

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