Commending National Public Health Institute of Liberia, But…


TWO DAYS AGO, SPECIFICALLY on Friday, March 9th, the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) brought the nation up to speed as it relates to the outbreak of Lassa fever in the country. Let it be noted that health authority in the country has not termed the number of cases so far as an “outbreak.”

Montserrado and Nimba Counties where the NPHIL has reported the cases of the disease are the two most populated political subdivisions in Liberia. 

IN THE 2017 PRESIDENTIAL AND REPRESENTATIVES Elections in Liberia, the National Elections Commission (NEC) registered a total of 2,183,629 voters across the country. Of this number Montserrado had 778,291 persons 18 and above and Nimba came in second with 279, 601 of registered voters. Both counties accounted for 49 percent of the total number of registered voters. 

THIS SHOWS HOW JAMMED OR OVERCROWDED these two counties are; with Nimba being a bordering counties on the Republics of Guinea and La Côte d’Ivoire. 

WE WANT TO COMMEND the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, under the watchful eyes of Attorney Tolbert G. Nyensuah and his corps of technicians, who informed the nation on last Friday about the outbreak of the Lassa fever and some of the measures that they embarked upon in order keep the nation and its inhabitants safe. 

BEFORE WE GO FURTHER INTO THIS editorial, let’s define what this disease is: Like the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD), Lassa fever is a viral hemorrhagic illness caused by a virus that is transmitted through contact with the urine or feces of infected rodents and through direct contact with body fluids of symptomatic human cases. 

INFORMING LIBERIANS ABOUT THE latest outbreak, the NPHIL, which is a part of the Ministry of Health, confirmed and reported on Friday at least three Lassa fever cases from Montserrado (2) and Nimba (1). 

SO ANY OUTBREAK IN EITHER of these or both counties should not be kept “secret” for even a day. These two counties are the most populated in the country. 

ALL THREE CONFIRMED CASES have since died. According to them, the three deaths underwent safe and dignified burials and the county health teams are conducting contact tracing on both healthcare workers and community members, who had high-risk (i.e. direct) contacts with the patients during their symptomatic periods. 

“NO EPIDEMIOLOGICAL LINK has been established between the three confirmed cases that died. A total of 134 contacts have been identified and are currently being followed-up (Montserrado 105, Margibi 25 and Nimba 4) inclusive of 37 healthcare workers. As of March 7, 2018, no new confirmed Lassa fever cases have been reported.” 

WHILE WE COMMEND THE PUBLIC Health Institute for keeping the nation informed as this wasn’t done during the Ebola outbreak, we, however, want to scorn the NPHIL for not being very swift enough. They are only reporting the occurrence in March when in fact, it started since January 1, this year. 

SIMILAR LACKADAISICAL ATTITUDE in 2014 during the worst Ebola outbreak led to the deaths of over five thousand people in Liberia alone. Health authorities in Liberia gave little or no information as it related to the outbreak and when they did, the messages were inconsistent, incoherent and conflicting.

One thing certain is that the Public Health Institute, which was established as one of the very good byproducts of the Ebola outbreak, is now staffed with some of the brilliant health technicians, who are being led by Tolbert Nyenswah. 

TOLBERT, WHO IS REGARDED in some nook and cranny of Liberia as an Ebola hero, must do all to be very swift in reporting whatever outbreak timely. 

THEY SAID ON FRIDAY THAT since January 1, 2018, a total of 28 suspected cases of Lassa fever have been reported across Liberia including 12 deaths. Of these, seven cases have been confirmed by the National Public Health Reference Laboratory: Nimba (4), Montserrado (2) and Bong (1). 

“IN RECENT YEARS, A CONSISTENTLY increasing trend in the number of Lassa fever cases has been observed in Liberia and other countries across West Africa. This includes Nigeria, where an ongoing outbreak has led to 353 confirmed cases with 78 confirmed and 8 probable deaths since January 1, 2018. 

“SYMPTOMS OF LASSA FEVER include vomiting, respiratory distress, chest pain, hiccups, and unexplained bleeding.” 

THESE ARE EXACTLY THE SAME symptoms and more that were or are associated with the deadly EVD, so keeping the public abreast the soonest is better. This will help Liberians and other nationals residing within our borders to be on the lookout. 

IN SPITE OF THEM BEING SLOW, WE want to still commend the Public Health Institute for beginning to take some actions including ensuring that all counties are aware of and prepared for handling any additional Lassa fever cases. 

THE MEASURES ALSO INCLUDE disseminating health promotion messages about the signs and symptoms of Lassa fever; re-training Redemption Hospital staff in Lassa fever case management and safe handling of cases; adapting case definition and screening tools and conducting surveillance and contact tracing in affected counties. 

THE MEASURES, WHICH ARE geared towards preventing the Lassa fever disease include keeping one’s home and surroundings clean in order to keep rats from entering the home; properly covering food and drinking water to stop rats from playing in them; disposing of garbage correctly and away from the home and important of all is always wash your hands with soap and water.