As the lockdown period nears its end, the nation’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Francis Kateh, has announced that, going forward, those individuals found violating the curfew will be detained and subject to compulsory COVID-19 testing.
Although he did not say what would happen afterwards to those individuals after the tests, it is being widely speculated that those individuals will be detained or otherwise quarantined until the tests results are out. But judging from statements by Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah and the Chief Medical Officer, it appears that that they are biting off more than they can chew.
In the first place, there is no organized testing program in place nationwide to identify and quarantine individuals suspected of being infected. Moreover, reports of inadequate supply of drugs and medicines coupled with the critical lack of adequate treatment facilities for infected individuals raises the question whether Health authorities are actually grandstanding and playing to the galley.
How about in areas outside Monrovia where residents face a chronic lack of access to health services and where health facilities are for the most part, nonexistent. How are those measures going to be enforced? Are Health authorities subtly inferring that the lockdown will be extended since in a just a matter of days the emergency lockdown period will have expired?
From the look of things, the COVID-19 response effort appears highly disjointed and ineffective. Social distancing measures have gone largely ignored by the public and the compulsory wearing of face masks has been heeded by only an insignificant minority. This has left many in the public wondering why for instance, areas like West Point, Soniwehn, New Kru Town etc, the COVID-19 has not swept through those areas leaving a trail of death in its wake.
In the opinion of this newspaper, such overcrowded and socially deprived areas, where social distancing is for all purposes an abstract concept should be areas where compulsory testing could be carried out as an initial step towards compulsory nationwide testing.
According to media reports, the Chinese government shut down Wuhan Province and deployed thousands of health workers to conduct house to house testing. And, of course, the results showed that the spread of COVID-19 was contained. But unlike China, Liberia suffers from a chronic shortage of medical doctors, nurses and other health workers and is therefore unable to implement such a strategy of control.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, China’s anti-COVID-19 response efforts, from available information, was not stymied by corruption as compared to Liberia where accountability has been singled out as a troubling concern judging by reports from the General Auditing Commission(GAC).
Perhaps, it would do Health authorities well to revisit their strategy and begin as a first step, to address concerns by health workers about the lack of adequate Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) and the lack of incentives for exposure to hazardous conditions of service and long duty hours. Then of course are the accountability issues and the unnecessary quest by leading officials including the President and Vice President to personalize the anti-COVID-19 response.
In one instance, it is the “Weah Project” while in another is the Jewel Starfish Foundation leading the anti-COVID-19 response. In view of this Health authorities need to recalibrate and refrain from making statements that convey a distinct impression that they are biting off more than they can chew or are otherwise playing to the galley in a quest to attract increased donor funding.
But whether donors will fall for the gambit remains to be seen.