When will they ever learn? When will officials of this government, especially policy makers, learn that sending mixed, incoherent and confused messages to the people on matters of public policy serves to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the very government they profess to support and serve?
This is a question weighing heavily on the minds of the public in the wake of disclosures by Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah that the incidence of Coronavirus infection is rising with new cases being reported, bringing the total number of infections to 14 from an all-time low of three.
The response of the government to the pandemic has at best been ineffectual against a rising number of new infections. So far official response measures have been limited to awareness campaigns and in the number of cases quarantined and treatment.
However, reports from the various quarantine centers speak of appalling sanitary conditions, chronic lack of requisite inputs such as syringes, treatment drugs, critical shortage of trained doctors, nurses and related paramedical staff etc.
This suggests that the fight against the deadly Coronavirus may have already been lost especially when one considers the havoc the disease is wreaking on countries with strong and developed health systems that appear incapable of a robust response to the deadly Coronavirus.
As the experience from the 2014 Ebola crisis shows, people, communities are much better prepared to combat the disease if they gain access to relevant and accurate information about the nature of the disease, its mode of transmission, how to prevent it and how it can be treated. During the Ebola crisis, local communities, acting quickly on information provided, organized contact tracing and corpse removal and disposal activities.
This is why the Daily Observer has often reminded officials to draw on lessons learnt from the Ebola crisis with the view to developing appropriate responses to the current Coronavirus outbreak.
A key concern of health authorities at the time were reports from communities around the country that infected individuals or those suspected to have contracted Ebola were being stigmatized even when they had recovered fully from the disease.
The impact of stigmatization on Ebola survivors has been devastating. In a number of reported cases, families were rejecting survivors of the disease for fear of contracting the disease themselves. Reports of infected individuals fleeing from Ebola treatment centers were not uncommon and this was linked basically to the fear of stigmatization.
In some cases, treatment and holding centers were attacked by locals fearful of possible contamination. The case of the Ebola center in West Point which was attacked and vandalized is a case in point. Stigmatization in the case of Ebola was real and most victims are still suffering the consequences today.
The experience so far with the Coronavirus suggests that the fear of stigmatization is already beginning to take hold as reports of people fleeing holding and quarantine centers continue to trickle in. The Minister of Health has since declared that for reasons of confidentiality, the names of individuals reported to be infected shall not be publicly disclosed.
Information Minister Eugene Nagbe has, on the other hand, publicly declared that he is not a medical doctor, has not sworn to the Hippocratic Oath required of all medical doctors/practitioners and, therefore, he will publicly disclose the names of individuals known to be infected with the virus as a way of enhancing contact tracing efforts.
Here we have a critical national health emergency on our hands and government officials are again sending put mixed and confused messages to the people, leaving them in an even greater state of confusion than before. That raises the question — just when will this government learn to speak with one voice?
It can be recalled that when news first broke about the alleged disappearance of 16bn of Liberian dollar banknotes as well as the furore around the US$25m infusion, different and conflicting accounts were fed to the public. In one breath, the Finance Minister emphatically declared that no money went missing thus completely contradicting accounts by this same Information Minister that money did indeed go missing. Such double-speak simply served to undermine government’s credibility and erode its legitimacy in the eyes of the people.
Rather sadly, the nation is once again bearing witness to conflicting accounts by its officials. It is as if there have been no cabinet meetings at which policy measures and strategies to achieve the actualization of same can be fully discussed and all contentious issues trashed out behind closed doors of course.
This is not happening, and it conveys rightly or wrongly an impression of dysfunctionality on the part of this government which is feeding into public narratives of an incompetent government whose officials keep shooting in the leg. It is as if they have not learned and therefore the question- WHEN WILL THEY EVER LEARN?