Necessity, says an adage, is always the good mother of invention. This aged-old proverb seems to be holding true in the wake of the continuing fight to find a cure for, and to eradicate the Ebola virus.
For months now, the troubled West African region and the world, witnessed the rude awakening of the international medical community to what was by all accounts, another unfolding regional and possibly global catastrophe. The outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) did not only threaten millions of lives, it proved to be untreatable and was spreading hysterically.
Hundreds of infected persons died within days of contracting the killer virus. Impoverished hamlets, poverty stricken villages, as well as unhygienic municipalities and overcrowded cities in the West African region had their thumbs tight on the panic button.
Thanks to the over-worked and unsung heroes in the international bio-medical and pharmaceutical communities, we are now seeing a much needed light at the end of the dark Ebola tunnel.
Already an American Doctor, Kent Brantley, who was stricken with the Ebola virus while working in Liberia, where the virus has been raging, responded positively to a new anti-Ebola drug called ZMapp, which is still in its trial stages. Dr. Brantley and an American missionary were airlifted to the United States of America for treatment. Another beloved American doctor, Rick Sacra, who contracted the disease while working in Liberia, has since recovered. In the wake of this welcome news about the Americans that were treated for the virus, comes positive news of anti-Ebola vaccines that are currently going through the tryout stages.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the United States Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told a gathering of experts that clinical trials of the new Ebola vaccine could be started as early as next year. Thanks to the efforts of the United States, the affected countries, the United Nations and other institutions of goodwill. True to his word, a clinical trial for a possible treatment of Ebola began on the 1st of January, 2015, at the Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA)-3 Medcins San Frontier’s (MSF) Ebola Management Center in Paynesville, Liberia. Led by Oxford University from the United Kingdom, and funded by the Wellcome Trust, the experiment aims to determine if the anti-viral drug, brincidofovir, is an effective treatment for Ebola.
Given that barely few months ago, there was no known cure for this scourge called Ebola; it is remarkable that a cure backed by a proven Ebola vaccine may well be a medical reality.
However, these two positive developments should not give any room for complacency. Already, lessons have been learned, some of which are: the long-term health, psychological and environmental afflictions for those whose families were either crushed by the disease or communities and lands that were used for cremation or unsafe burials. That is precisely the story of the residents of Boys Town community in Marshall, a suburb that is only few miles from Monrovia, the capitol of Liberia. The government and its partners used an open-air Indian crematorium to primitively burn victims of the Ebola virus without basic awareness or consultation with those who live in the area.
Needless to say that those responsible for public health administration, should now see the urgent need to reach out to the affected community and provide psycho-social counseling for residents, relocate the Indians and disallow the use of the crematorium which should be transformed into a memorial. Provision of basic health services, which are woefully lacking, is the just thing to do. An action in that direction would mitigate or curtail likely future environmental and related hazards.
For starters, public hygiene regimens throughout the country remain shamelessly deplorable. Residents of various communities, including Boys Town are frequently victims of environmental diseases. In other words, diseases that are caused by unpleasant surroundings like malaria, typhoid, dysentery, etc, and now Ebola, are the ones that affect these communities. That is why it is mind boggling to even reveal that safety and health protocols were ignored in disposing the remains and used personal protective equipment (PPE) of nothing else but Ebola victims.
A senior government official was sincere to admit that “they (officials) looked the other way and endangered the lives of those who live in the vicinity of the crematorium which should never have been used for any reason”. While the residents surely would appreciate a rare admission from a public official for not defending the indefensible as it is habitually the case, it brings no relief for what they suffered.
As a result of such open and primitive burning, it is unclear what the future holds for residents of that community as it relates to their health, psychological and environmental wellbeing.
Successive governments of Liberia have failed to prioritize and regulate the public health system until the Ebola virus stimulated the sleeping collective conscience of the country. Thus, the importance of a credible and assessable public health delivery system will continue to gain prominence long after Ebola is gone.
With the aforementioned, it is expected that the recent appeal or suggestions proffered by residents of that community be given timely support as an appropriate first step to set in motion a healing process by all concerned. It can be recalled, that the residents of that community in a strong-worded statement, asked the government and its international partners to encourage the Indians to relocate and disallow them to use the crematorium for the same reasons the government was pressured to cease its cremating activities.
Residents of that community having suffered months of trauma due to the burning, smear and loud bursting sounds of Ebola victims for months, also requested that government and its partners provide counseling services to members of the community, including a select few that were hired without proper guidance to perform such an abnormal task.
On August 2, 2014, residents of the affected community awoke to an unusual movement of fleet of trucks belonging to the Firestone Company, reinforced by the nation’s military, transported loads of wood to the old Indian Crematorium on Marshall Road in Margibi County.
When the Indians established the crematorium in the 1980s; it was deemed a logical site because the area was then uninhabited. It is now situated in the middle of a thriving neighborhood which makes occasional cremation even by the Indians an immoral act due to its closeness to occupied residential buildings.
Members of the community indicated that while they are united against the heartless treatment meted out against them; they, however, are supportive of efforts to eradicating the deadly Ebola virus. The residents also noted that their hearts are loaded with profound grief for the victims of the horrible disease.
The question now for any well-meaning individual, government, local or international institution, is how can anyone who lives in that area ever forget the daily sight of mass parade of their fellow citizens being incompetently dumped and burned so close to them with smoke deriving from their burned remains, saturating the air and their homes?
Therefore, the health, psychological and environmental impact and its associated pain cannot be overemphasized; so the government should take hasty concrete steps to lessen the situation which could rightly be termed as an “immeasurable trauma.”
With the above mentioned recommendations, it is expected that the government, as custodian of rights and safety, act quickly to redeem its missteps not only to reassure the injured and peaceful community of Boys Town, but other communities that are anxious about what transpired in their sister community. The ancient cremation carried out in that neighborhood, which was identical to watching a horror movie, has disturbed the air, stigmatized and contaminated the environment, caused trauma as a direct result of heavy explosions during cremation, and polluted open wells and water table of the people of Boys Town.
About the Author:
Mr. Tibelrosa Summoh Tarponweh is a resident and spokesperson for the Boys Town, Marshall Community, whose advocacy is intended to draw attention to the gross violation of the community’s right to live in a safe and healthy environment. Email: [email protected]