Medical War in Liberia

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The Liberian nation is at war again.  The situation is so grave that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf last night declared a 90-day state of emergency.  She said this may require the suspension of certain constitutional liberties.  The Liberian people are bracing themselves to see what direction this might take.     

The war this time, fortunately, it is not so much us versus us, even though there is some evidence of that; but particularly  us versus the deadly Ebola virus, which has inflicted a terrible calamity upon the nation and the Mano River basin, resulting in hundreds of deaths and uncontrollably increasing new infections.

Just yesterday news broke about a new area under attack, Kakata, one of our most central cities, through which thousands of people pass daily traveling to the central, western and southeastern parts of the country. 

Kakata is also one of our educational centers, home to the nation’s oldest and leading vocational and technical institution, Booker Washington Institute.  Kakata is also the epicenter of one of the nation’s most important economic activities, the rubber industry, in which tens of thousands of Liberians are employed.  In the past two days four health workers have died and 11 others infected at Kakata’s C.H. Rennie Hospital.  The Health Ministry is relocating the infected to quarantine facilities in Monrovia. 

We said earlier that there is self-inflicted harm also, evidenced by marauding criminals poisoning wells in various communities, with dangerous chemicals.  The police in Monrovia are in denial of this dangerous new menace, but just as they were issuing a new statement of denial Thursday, reports came in from our Nimba correspondent, Ishmael Menkor, that at two a.m. that same morning a well in a family compound had been burst open by unknown persons and allegedly poisoned.

This is a matter that requires the engagement of the entire Joint Security; for there are many places in Margibi County and Monrovia, the nation’s capital, where poisoning activities have been reported.  And now Ganta.

Our most serious challenge at this time, however, is the combat against the deadly Ebola virus, which has already claimed over 200 lives and hundreds of new infections in country, and over 1000 deaths among Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.  Now Nigeria, where a Liberian official collapsed and died at the Lagos airport, is at risk of the Ebola spread.  The official had been in contact with his Ebola-sick sister before he, ignoring the advice of many, boarded a plane to Nigeria for a meeting.

He ended up carrying this deadly disease to Africa’s most populous country.  The Lagos nurse who treated him has also reportedly died.

President Sirleaf now has to develop and announce to Liberians the new strategies she and her officials are putting into place for the intensified anti-Ebola battle.  She also now has to explain what she means by the suspension of certain constitutional rights and privileges, for which she must seek legislative approval.  She has to make a strong and carefully crafted case, for this is not the same nation before 1980, when the True Whig Party’s rubber stamp Legislature handed President W.V.S. Tubman each year, as long as he wanted it, Emergency Powers that allowed him to jail anybody at will or take any administrative action he wished. 

Liberians have since 2006 enjoyed and become accustomed to a new dispensation, made possible by the active reengagement of the 1986 Constitution which President Sirleaf, in keeping with the oaths she took in January 2006 and 2012, respectively, has striven to uphold. 

Ours is once again a multiparty democracy.  But given the exigencies of the moment, and Ebola uncontrollably spreading, the Legislature may accede to the President’s request for a state of emergency to deal with this extraordinary situation.  But what measures are to be put into place, whether they will be able to arrest the deadly viral spread, and how will the emergency affect the daily lives of citizens and residents, remain to be seen.

Health workers are most likely to be among the groups expected to be affected by the emergency.  Since so many of them have stayed away from work for fear of infection, the emergency may force them to report back to duty.  The least GOL can do to ensure their return to duty, is to provide each with full protective gear, food, fluids and everything else that their safety and wellbeing demand.      

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