Liberia’s economy which has been in a downward spiral since Ebola and, well before the advent of the Coronavirus, appears set to experience even more setbacks occasioned by the effects of the deadly virus. The 2014 Ebola outbreak completely exposed the fragility of the nation’s health system. Unlike the Coronavirus, the Ebola virus is more deadly, and it took the lives of thousands. On a daily basis, health facilities and communities were reporting cases of fatalities resulting from the onslaught of the Ebola virus.
At a point, it had appeared that all was lost, however ingenuity and resilience proved to be the key factors that halted the disease in its tracks. At its initial stages, most Liberians were unaware of what the disease was and how it could be stopped. Probably this can explain why the death toll was so high initially. However, as awareness levels increased, things took on a different turn.
Handshaking and finger-snapping, a common form of Liberian greeting, was abandoned and, in the absence of special Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), a Liberian health worker (nurse) resorted to the use of plastic bags as protective material. Her innovation saved many lives. And then, of course the assistance of the international community proved crucial. Unlike this time around, the US military became heavily involved in the fight against Ebola in Liberia.
Community residents of Soniwhein and PHP would recall the awe that overcame them with the sight of giant US military planes landing and taking off every hour or so at the BTC and discharging loads of supplies. China also came to the rescue, erecting durable isolation and treatment centers as well as providing medical equipment, drugs and staff. Cuba also stepped in, providing drugs and medical personnel. The UN also provided financial and material resources. Millions of dollars poured into the country’s anti-Ebola program.
According to sources, millions of dollars of the Ebola money remain unaccounted for under the stewardship of officials of the past administration. One of such individuals, Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah, decorated and hailed as an Ebola hero by the past government, is now facing allegations of criminal behavior, including theft of money intended to fight the Coronavirus.
As the Coronavirus spreads and as resources are now being mobilized to address the situation, the Daily Observer is constrained to warn against any repeat of theft of funds intended to combat the disease as was experienced during the 2014 Ebola crisis. President Sirleaf failed to act against those involved and her demonstrated lack of action against those who stole the money is likely to adversely impact the ability of this government to mobilize resources.
And the country’s situation is not helped by what appears to be runaway corruption and the lack of accountability on the part of this government. It can be recalled that sometime last year the international donor community, in a rather unprecedented move, wrote the administration of President George Manneh Weah, demanding that project support funds, illegally withdrawn from their accounts held at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) be replaced. It remains unclear whether such funds were replaced by end of February 2020, as stated at the time by the Finance Minister.
Additionally, the Government of Liberia (GOL), particularly the Ministry of Health, drawing lessons from revelations by Ms. Laurine Mason concerning selected quarantine centers, particularly the Kailondo Hotel on the Old Road, should quickly act to address the situation. But it cannot do so by providing hollowed assurances to the public that it has designated and prepared quarantine centers to hold infected individuals when, in fact, the nation’s largest referral hospital, JFK, is not even equipped or prepared to handle the situation. It simply undermines public trust and credibility in this government.
Further, reports of nurses and other medical staff running from Ms. Lenda Russ who had gone to the hospital seeking help, suggest that their reaction was triggered by recollections of the 2014 Ebola crisis which took away the lives of doctors and nurses. And it clearly indicated that the JFK was totally unprepared to receive individuals suffering from symptoms of the disease, let alone treat them.
And the same can be said of the 14th Military Hospital, which army officers (names withheld) have told the Daily Observer, cannot even be compared to what used to be the Soko Sackor Hospital at the BTC. In this regard, GOL should appeal to all friendly governments for help, particularly the governments of Cuba, China and Russia, which are now mobilizing resources to help other countries.
Cuba, reporting that none of its 28,268 medical workers abroad has contracted the Coronavirus, has already sent a team of 80 doctors and nurses to Italy, the country most affected by the virus. It is also responding to requests from 15 countries for 22 medications including Interferon Alpha 2B for the treatment of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
China, for its part, has also donated millions of face masks to other countries including the US which is facing a critical shortage of face masks and related supplies. The question is, why has the GOL not seen it fit to aggressively source assistance from the international community particularly the governments of China, Cuba and Russia to help us in this fight? If need be, request even medical personnel given the critical shortage of adequate doctors and medical supplies, including drugs.
Meanwhile, the GOL needs to step up its information, sensitization and awareness campaigns about the disease and avoid sending conflicting messages to the public. Contact tracing which proved to be crucial during the Ebola crisis should be enhanced. There is a need for fallback on the lessons learnt from Ebola, during which community contact tracers were trained and deployed. If need be, recall them for reorientation and deployment.
We cannot afford to wait for thousands to die before we act. This is indeed a national emergency requiring the cooperation and collaboration of all, including the IN POSITION, OPPOSITION AND NO POSITION.