By Eddie Miaway Farngalo BSN, RN, MPH [email protected]; 0886484351/0777590035
Center for Liberia’s Future conducted an 18 month qualitative nationwide study on Ebola Survivors, Orphans, Caregivers and Stakeholders. The research findings outlined/revealed several factors that if not taking care of, just in case another outbreak of the same magnitude occurs, there will be more deaths or casualties.
Sadly at the detriment of the larger and less privileged population, those evidence based findings were discredited or politicized by most of MOH Ministers and Directors- where a Deputy Minister was seen covering his mouth while others were heard making fun of research findings that were pressing to strengthen the ancient day health system of Liberia. Now, everything the research revealed that was to be put under control six months ago is surfacing in the wake of donor withdrawal.
One point five (1.495) million United States Dollars was donated to conduct a nationwide research in Liberia under the title, “Ebola Care Supports Project”. The funding was made available by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation through the office of the Vice President, Hon. Joseph N. Boakai to Dr. Emmanuel Dolo’ think tank (Center for Liberia’s Future) (The Analyst, 2016).
The general aim of the national research was to find out the role indigenous knowledge played in combating the deadly Ebola Virus Disease that killed over 4808 people and left many with residual heath complications, stigmatized and discriminated against, while leaving others as orphans. Caregivers for children who lost one or two parents are overwhelmed by such burden under the harsh economy situation in the country. Yet still, they are carrying such burden without tangible or sustainable help from anywhere.
The study sought to answer four research questions: what were the factors that were responsible for the rapid spread of the Ebola Virus Disease? Its containment, reintegration challenges and the preparedness level nationwide just in case there is another Ebola outbreak of the same magnitude as the 2014/2015 occur.
Among all the research questions, the think tank was extremely interested in sharing the preparedness levels findings with policy makers (Cabinet ministers, MOH management, NPHIL staff etc.). This was because denial, mistrust in government officials, traditional and religious practices were among factors that escalated the deadly EVD outbreak that killed thousands of vulnerable people had returned to their status quo.
Unfortunately, the preparedness level findings were rubbished and politicized locally and internationally by key actors to whom the results were disseminated. Instead of them adopting those outcomes as threats and opportunities that can be used to strengthen the weakened health system.
Rubbished preparedness research report (hard copy and PowerPoint) that was presented to both Cabinet and MOH revealed that the District Surveillance Officers (DSOs) withheld surveillance data for few weeks because they were not paid for 6 months. But yet still, the MOH surveillance department was reporting over 95% timeliness and completeness-data that is most likely deduced to be cooked. When persons responsible were contacted, they denied the allegations and explained otherwise.
Still alerting the Ministry responsible about issues that were undermining the impacts of thousands of Ebola funds that were received and public health threats that were emerging behind the scene of key health authorities were: shortages of drugs, use of Personal Protective Equipment as raingear, lack of hand washing stations at public places including MOH itself or other overcrowded ministries and agencies, shopping centers. In addition, practices that helped rapidly spread the disease have returned to the status quo-number of passengers in a cap had increased from three in the back and one in the front seats to four and two respectively, lack of functional ambulances in rural clinics, media institutions have relaxed awareness messages, increased cross border trade without tight surveillance system etc. those findings were also politicized targeting researchers and individuals.
Let me borrow a quote from Mr. Alexander B. Cummings and he states: we cannot do the wrong thing over and over and expect to get different results.
In 2014, when Health Workers demanded increased salaries as they risk they and their family lives during the deadly Ebola Virus Disease outbreak, heads of the association were sacked by MoH when other international health workers were making thousands of dollars for fights they were not relatively involved directly. This was uncovered in published article by Lucy Drapper that “Frontline health workers were sidelined in $3.3bn fight against Ebola.”
Frontline health workers still been underpaid grossly as compared with other sectors, recently, the BBC Africa reported that International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) confirmed that 2.7million was mismanaged in fraudulent of over pricing supplies (BBC Focus on Africa). But the front line health workers were coerced to accept peanuts and till date, many health workers are underpaid. In worst cases, incentives or salaries are delayed for several months.
Bigger pictures for the two instances mentioned above is that donors will be reluctant to supporting future outbreaks of major public health threats.
Here we are today with about 12% of the national budget enjoyed by the ministry, extremely important cadre that watch over the entire population’s health is threatening to go on strike-meaning we have no active securities to watch out for sicknesses that are capable of killing and causing irreversible disabilities for many people in this country (Liberia). They are just few of the aggrieved health workers who are part of the silent majority.
Until the MoH can value the role country based independent think tank plays in monitoring and evaluating their operations through an evidence-based research as well as being cognizant that research inform policy, news that will be more denigrating, demotivating as well as burying unwavering efforts by policy makers to resuscitate the sector that was damaged for over 14 years will continue to surface.