With the very serious, even devastating national crisis facing our country, this is admittedly no time to start finding blame for the rapid and unrelenting (merciless) spread of the Ebola virus. The urgency of the situation demands that instead of placing blame, we should be desperately and determinedly finding solutions to the unremitting (continuous) spread of the virus.
Our editorial just yesterday attempted to show the way forward—through faith, hope and through taking all of the preventive measures to halt the spread. These, we said, include constantly cleaning our hands, avoiding anyone suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus, cleaning our homes, surroundings and cities and quickly disposing of Ebola bodies.
But the blame game was introduced not by the media but by the President herself. In her message to the nation announcing a nationwide dusk-to- dawn curfew, she placed the blame squarely on the citizenry because of their denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and ignoring the Health Ministry’s preventive directives and recommendations.
In our news analysis of the curfew mandate yesterday, we reminded the President, the Health Ministry and others that while some of what the President had said was true, there were at least two things from the government side that were equally or even more defeating to the national effort to fight Ebola. First, there was—and still is—the s l o w response of the Ministry of Health and the emergency team to calls from the public to attend patients suspected of the virus. Many around the country have complained no response from health workers to phone calls from the sick.
The second complaint, which is even more serious and deadly, is the slow response of the Health Ministry and the entire response team to calls for the removal of corpses after the virus had killed people. In our story yesterday, we quoted Grand Bassa Representative Byron Brown telling the state radio ELBC that 35 people had died in his district. After his office called the Response Center, health workers took seven days to arrive, by which time communities had buried the bodies independently!
“Independently?” Does anyone know what this means? It means more spread of the virus, from the corpses, since the Health Ministry had itself warned the citizenry to stay far from corpses, because touching one could lead immediately to infection.
As far as Ganta and other parts of Nimba there are reports of unattended corpses for days. Now Nimba has closed its border with Grand Gedeh.
The President and the Health Minister were mistaken to assign the Internal Affairs Ministry, NOT the Heath and Social Welfare Ministry to be responsible for the highly specialized task of removing and disposing of the extremely contagious Ebola corpses. The resulting failure to remove the corpses was because the Internal Affairs had no training whatsoever to undertake such an assignment. So the unattended infected bodies caused the disease to spread even further.
This newspaper has said in several editorials—and we say again—that it is only the Health authorities that should be handling these bodies, because they alone have the training to do so. There is a whole branch of Medicine devoted to dead bodies: it is called Pathology. The pathologist is trained to handle corpses. It is he/she who determines the cause of death and how the bodies should be disposed of. If the patient dies from such a highly contagious disease as TB or Ebola, the pathologist, in order to prevent the further spread of the disease, will NEVER hand over the body to the family. The government, under the direction of the medical people, takes over the body and buries it, WITHOUT FAMILY INVOLVEMENT!
In our story yesterday, we quoted a Montserrado Representative who said that in Mount Barclay, the health team arrived FIVE DAYS after the response team had been called to remove bodies, by which time maggots had germinated in the bodies and chickens had begun eating them. What is going to happen to the people who had to live near these bodies? And to those who eat the chickens?
The government must seriously intensify its Ebola-response mechanisms and become far more robust in answering calls, either from the recently infected, or from families and communities weeping over their dead and anxious to see the bodies interred or cremated, not left to decompose before their eyes.