Last week the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) reported the resurface of the deadly Lassa Fever in Nimba and Montserrado Counties.
The NPHIL reported that the disease has claimed the lives of three persons who came in contact with it; an indication that this disease is contagious as compared to the deadly Ebola virus that took away thousands of lives between 2014 and 2015.
When the Ebola epidemic broke out in March 2014, the Ministry of Health could do nothing much to sensitize the Liberian populace about what to do to prevent the spread of the virus simply because they had very little knowledge and experience of the virus.
This outbreak was occurring among people so ignorant of personal hygiene and very prone to denial — something that contributed much to the widespread effect of the virus, thus leaving thousands to die.
People’s disbelief about the virus lasted for months until they had a rude awakening as the virus took even the lives of those on the front-line of the fight — health workers including nurses and doctors.
And then they sensed that Ebola was real, contagious and communicable. By that, without waiting to be told what to do, they began to report cases and even some affected people began to report themselves to Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) to be quarantined.
Handshaking and finger-snapping, normally a traditional and daily ritual and the gathering of people closely in groups came to a virtual halt. This experience is still fresh on the minds of Liberians and it should not take much time and effort to raise awareness about an outbreak of any disease to get the message across.
Unlike Ebola, whose true source is yet to be known, Lassa Fever is known. It originates from infected rats carrying the Lassa Hemorrhagic fever. Considering the source of this fever, it is about time that the new Health authorities in the Administration of George Weah attach seriousness to sanitation as the current state of our environment leaves no doubt that the carrier of the disease is harbored in stockpiles of garbage that are engulfing communities across the country.
Commercial districts including Red-Light, Duala, Waterside and even central Monrovia, have stockpiles of garbage that encourage the breeding of rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes and other parasites.
All drainages in Monrovia are now clogged with plastic bags and other wastes — and because central Monrovia and its suburbs generally lack public toilet facilities, human feces is disposed of in plastic bags and thrown away in corners and on top of other buildings.
In order to tackle the spread of Lassa Fever in the country, the source needs to be attacked vigorously. To attack the source, Liberians must also give serious attention to proper sanitation by properly disposing of garbage and human waste.
Health authorities, mainly the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, should begin a sensitization campaign urging people to desist from eating stored food not properly protected.
Health authorities should also liaise with school authorities to promote health and hygiene activities in schools across the country to acquaint students with personal hygiene and precautionary measures to adopt in order to prevent diseases including Lassa fever.
The Ministry of Health should come up with applicable and practical measures the public should take to control the spread of disease by rodents, including the elimination of rodents in homes.
Health authorities in conjunction with the Monrovia City Corporation and other areas around the country should begin to enforce existing ordinances that forbid littering and pollution in all forms in order to prevent and avoid the spread of Lassa fever and other associated diseases.
Without sitting and twirling our thumbs hoping to receive support from foreign donors before beginning to do what needs to be done, Liberian health authorities should make use of training and experience acquired during Ebola and seek post-Ebola support to the health system to enhance their potential to bring this emerging health crisis under control before it worsens.
Health authorities must be reminded that this is no time for big, empty talk and grand-standing. It is instead time to take practical action to address the emergency at hand.