The Guinean Ambassador to Liberia, Elhaji Abdoulaye Doré, has appealed to neighboring countries not to close the border with his country in face of the Ebola outbreak. He has rather suggested that serious preventive measures be taken to halt or minimize the spread of the deadly disease. Senegal closed its southeastern border with Guinea.
Following our publication of Observer Senior Reporter C.Y. Kwanu’s story on the Ambassador’s concern, the Daily Observer immediately contacted Liberia’s Health Minister, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, and Immigration Commissioner Lemuel Reeves, for their reaction to the GuineaN envoy’s plea.
Both the Health Minister and the Immigration Commissioner readily concurred. Dr. Gwenigale referred to the International Health Regulation that preceded the establishment of the World Health Organization (WHO). That Regulation advised against border closures in the event of a disease outbreak. At WHO’s establishment in 1948, where Liberian was represented by its first Public Health Director General, Dr. Joseph N. Togba, the WHO confirmed that Regulation.
Dr. Gwenigale fears that should Liberia close its border with Guinea or any other neighboring nation, “people will start dying in the bush because there are too many crossing points.”
He observed that many Guineans and Liberians cross the border daily to work on each other’s farms.
Commissioner Reeves told the Daily Observer that from Grand Cape Mount to Maryland County there were 176 known border points, only 35 of which, until recently, were manned by Liberian Immigration officers. Now the number of patrolled border points has increased to 45. Mathematically, that leaves 131 border points unchecked.
He fears that if the borders are closed, people would begin using unofficial routes along our porous borders, hampering the Health Ministry's ability to monitor and regulate possibly infected persons.
Dr. Gwenigale told the Daily Observer that Jorwah, the town built in the 1970s by President William R. Tolbert, Jr., behind his farm in Bellefanai, Bong County, was very near the Guinea border, where highly frequent crossings occur each day.
Commissioner Reeves yesterday told the Daily Observer in addition to human beings crossing the borders, there are also animals, including monkeys and deer, all of which are disease carriers. In addition, there are planes from neighboring countries bringing people into other countries. So, in his opinion, border closing would not solve the problem.
We think that all three officials, the Guinean Ambassador, Liberia’s Health Minister and Immigration Commissioner, make a lot of sense in arguing against closing the borders. All their arguments are cogent.
We are fortunate that there has not so far been a rapid spread of the disease. Of the 134 cases reported in Guinea there have been only 100 deaths. Of the 10 casualties in Liberia, the last person to die was on Sunday morning, April 6, in Foya, where news of the outbreak here was first reported.
The Health Ministry has disclosed that two labs have been created in Liberia to monitor and fight the spread of Ebola. The labs are linked to the Meta-Biotic Laboratories in Kenema, Sierra Leone. The first lab in Liberia is a permanent one, established within the Liberia Institute for Biomedical Research, located in Charlesville, near the Roberts International Airport (RIA). The second is a mobile lab, based in Foya, Lofa County, where the first casualties were reported. This lab is equipped to provide rapid response to any reports of Ebola incidences in the general area.
Commissioner Reeves told this newspaper that he will this weekend commence a tour of various border points, beginning in Grand Gedeh County. It may be a good idea for the Commissioner to consult with Health Minister Gwenigale with a view to taking along health workers familiar with the epidemic. These experts would know what to do immediately in the case of detection anywhere along the way.