A medical report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States on specimen from the Sinoe County health crisis attributing the numerous deaths and illnesses to Neisseria Meningitidis cannot be disputed. Information gathered from the CDC website indicates that bacterial meningitis is very serious and can be deadly. “Death can occur in as little as a few hours,” the report said.
However, the public is not convinced that Neisseria Meningitidis, as diagnosed from specimen obtained from the victims of the “strange disease” that struck about 30 people in Sinoe County, is responsible for the deaths. One thing that is still confusing is the timing of the outbreak, if it would be considered. Reports from Sinoe had it that, after eating at a funeral feast, victims came down with an illness characterized by abdominal pains, vomiting, weakness, headache, and mental confusion – conditions that have a few similarities to Neisseria Meningitidis. Meningitis, on the other hand, carries symptoms that include nausea, vomiting, photophobia, and altered mental status.
Now the question is: How did people from different areas converging at a wake come down with this disease at the same time and occasion? The World Health Organization (WHO) recorded on March 19, 2017 that a total of 1407 suspected cases of meningitis and 211 deaths were reported from 40 local government areas in five states of Nigeria since 2016, with the most affected age group being 5 to 14-year olds. What we could not get from the WHO report was whether or not the affected people came down with the disease at the same time and in such a high number as in Sinoe.
Also, the Edmonton Meningococcal Study Group in Alberta, Canada recorded in the Journal List that Neisseria Meningitidis causes outbreaks of disease resulting in severe illness and death. According to the group, these outbreaks occur in persons in their teens and early twenties with persons 25 years old appearing to be less affected.
What is the age group of the affected people of the Sinoe County outbreak?
Another concern surrounding the incident is the possibility of food or drink poisoning. Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Francis Kateh, and the WHO representative to Liberia, Dr. Alex Gasasira, said last Saturday that tea served at the wake and funeral of a religious leader is suspected to have been accidentally poisoned. Could that also be a possible source to explore through laboratory testing to establish the cause of this mysterious illness? We believe this is important in the effort to establish facts about the incident because food poisoning cannot be totally ruled out in the wicked world we live in Liberia.
In fact, the current health issue in Sinoe brings to mind a similar occurrence in March 2007 in Nimba County, where seven persons died after eating an evening meal; however, two others survived only because they were able to drink enough palm oil.
It has also become common practice in Liberia today that, at many occasions, drinks, soups and snacks could be mixed with narcotics, mainly marijuana. When the Presidential Taskforce headed by General Services Agency Director General Mary Broh ransacked a criminal den on 25th Street about a year ago, a woman was among a group allegedly engaged in mixing marijuana with gari and sugar to produce ‘kayan,’ a popular Liberian snack.
If people who know the danger of drugs can engage in such a practice, is it not possible that someone can put poison in food in Sinoe to kill people? Could Greenville, Sinoe County actually be a crime scene mistaken for the epicenter of a natural health crisis?
In this election year, we cannot afford to leave any stone unturned. We therefore call on not only Liberia’s health authorities and international partners, but also law enforcement – pathologists and crime investigators – to exercise due diligence in establishing the cause(s) of these mysterious deaths, as the public looks up to them, eagerly anticipating the answer to what really happened in Sinoe.