Remembering April 6 in the Face of COVID-19

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By Richlue O. Burphy ([email protected])

It’s another April 6 and this time, it’s not just Liberians that are facing difficult times but the world at large.

For months now, the world is being struck by this novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) and like Liberians on April 6, 1996, the world didn’t see it coming. For some countries that saw it coming, they overlooked the virus impact. Many of them trusted their healthcare system that are being hard hit even the most. Some had significant trust in their health infrastructure whilst others had their hopes in their health care service providers including their doctors and nurses.

And African countries are seeing cases of the Coronavirus too. With high poverty rate where many of the continent’s citizens survive on less and a dollar daily, not many countries on the continent can boast of good healthcare system that can beat COVID – 19 if there should be an outbreak on the continent.

Whilst developed countries are still ordering some of the equipment like ventilators and protective gears, I’m told here in my country Liberia, we have just three ventilators for a population of over 4 million people.

Globally, over 1.2 million people have been affected with the virus over 300,000 being in the United States alone. This is indeed a war! It’s a war against an unseen enemy. Like the Ebola Virus Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea experienced in 2014, none can see the COVID – 19 but it is attacking on a daily basis.

On April 6 in 1996, Liberians were listening to dreadful sound of automatic rifles, explosions from tons of rocket propelled grenades, and voices of militia groups, violently screaming at the top of their lungs. We could see the enemies!

It was a fateful Saturday morning and some weekend students were on their way to school, market women had left their homes for the market on a regular business day and commercial drivers had already started their workday and were all out in the traffic. Business owners were opening their businesses, and some had just gotten started with business activities – in anticipation of a normal routine day when hell broke loose.

And 24 years down the line, it’s not just Liberia, but the world is faced with a global enemy – the Cornonavirus. Schools have been closed and parents are forced to teach their children at home. In more developed countries, schools are running online and digital learning programs to aid students so that they don’t miss out on their education.

Many businesses are closed and Liberians are unable to fend for their daily bread. Street hawkers who sell on a daily basis to cater to the needs of their families are seriously challenged in caring for their homes amidst this new reality the virus is causing.

People are being urged to stay at home. But how do you stay in a home that has got no food, water and other basic things you need for your survival? Is it being insensitive to needs of the poor and those who can’t afford? But what good will it do you even if you are not out and about but you contract the virus?

So the social distancing order is very important. 6 feet apart! Public transportation system has been asked to carry two passengers in the back other than the regular four. Essential business providing food and health services have been ordered to take between five to ten persons in their facilities at a time.

Churches, mosques and other religious institutions have been asked to stop gathering their members. Entertainment and recreation centers have been ordered closed. Gathering of any kind are to be limited to maximum ten persons. And this includes weddings and funerals.

Frequent washing of hands is being projected as one of the most important measures to stay safe and free from the virus. Stay at home, wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face and off course, if you feel sick with any of the symptoms of the virus, call the 4455 hotline of visit the hospital or clinic.

I remember always listening to the BBC during the April 6 war in Liberia. as a refugee, I wanted to know what was going on back home in Liberia. For sure, the famous voice from back home on the radio was that of veteran Liberian journalist Jonathan Paye Layleh. I must admit here that his voice, to me, was not one of a pleasant one to listen to. I always laughed when I was a boy but one line I never forgot from his reportage was his closing signature. Mr. Paye Layleh never forgot to sign out that ‘reporting for BBC Network Africa, this is Jonathan Paye Layleh; Monrovia, Liberia’. I always waited for that line and I would just recite it with him.

These are the moments when nearly every Liberian on the refugee camp would be glued by their radio in high earnest anticipation of what Paye Layleh had to say. The news was mostly not good. Many people would cry after listening to him. Many hearts would get broken after hearing him speak of the situation in the motherland. Yet and still, nobody wanted to miss the opportunity of listening to him.

24 years after, it is not the sounds of guns but the Coronavirus. It first started in China. It quickly spread to other countries and in no time, it has become a global challenge spreading all over the world in Africa; with Algeria reporting the index case on the African continent. Today, almost every country on the continent has reported some cases though many of them are at very low rates compared to countries in Europe and Asia. Liberia for example, as at April 5, 2020 had reported just about 13 cases.

But is it that Africa really have these very few cases or the continent is challenged with testing facilities and so do not know the actual extent of the virus presence on the continent? Or is it that there is lack of transparent information coming from health authorities on the continent?

Whatever the case, the presence of the virus is already affecting Africa and its economy and these effects are already being observed at the geopolitical level in many countries. Even with the low number of cases so far, the threat to the continent is serious. It started in Algeria, the Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Morocco. Then it started affecting other countries including Liberia. and you will notice that almost all the index cases in African countries are people connected with the outside world. They are either government officials, bureaucrats, business people, entertainers and sports.

And almost all African countries are unfavorable in many ways. From basic hygiene needs to health infrastructure, African countries are not the best or even among the best. One other very important and could be an alarming factor is the amount of people living in slums and unfavorable conditions on the continent. If the virus spreads to these areas where these people in the slums and struggling for life, what do you think would happen? What would the government do? How would the international community respond?

April 6, 1996 is a day that has gone deep, deeper down in our history as part of our ugly past. It is a day that Liberians will never forget. We will tell it to our children and their children. We will continue to remind them of those dark days and prevail on their conscience never to attempt going back into those days. We should vehemently resist every temptation to go back where we came from.

And like Liberia, the world will forever remember this COVID-19 outbreak. Never before has our way of life been affected at this unprecedented level. Never before has the world been shutdown to this extent. Never before has even the powerful looked so powerless.

The damage this global pandemic will do to the African economy in the medium term and long term may be far more severe than its health impact in the short term. Currently, it is negatively affecting the markets; commodity prices, the value of national currencies and interest rates. It is also affecting international trade which are the main factors triggering a global economic crisis.

The developed countries will try to overcome this crisis soon. Some are already pushing out stimulus packages to support their citizens and businesses that are affected by the outbreak. What are our African governments doing? What are we doing here in Liberia to help the economy and those that are being affected?

Looking at what is happening globally and in the developed countries, anyone can predict that it would be devastating and worse if there should be an outbreak here in Liberia. This is why we must all in our own little ways protect this motherland. We must all endeavor to ensure that we stay safe here in Liberia. Stay home. Wash your hands, keep your distance from people. Stop attending large gatherings. And importantly, we must remain prayerful.

We must be prayerful! That and only that, will we know after we pass this challenge and we will say to ourselves and everyone else that it must have been God. Nobody else could have done this much for us. It must have been God. Nobody else could have brought us thus far. It must have been God. Nobody else could have lifted our face in the comity of nations. It must have been God. Nobody else could have revive our shattered economy. It must have been God. Nobody else could have restore our basic social systems. It must have been God. Nobody else could have ignited our dreams and hopes. It must have been God. Nobody else could have shone so much light on our days. It must have been God.

See what other countries are using to fight the outbreak. Do we have some? Do we have the number of beds? Who we have those kind of facilities – the ventilators, advanced hospitals, that number of qualified doctors? Are we anywhere near them? How

About the Author:

Richlue O. BURPHY is a development practitioner and a media and public relations professional with vast knowledge and experiences that has grown him into a development communications specialist. He has experiences working with several international organizations managing communications and outreach programs. He’s also a humanitarian with a heart and passion for children. His charity programs run into villages to lift lives, inspire hopes and brighten smiles. He is an advocate and activist for societal development and progress.

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