EDITORIAL: LIBERIA – This COVID-19 is No Joke

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AT THE HEIGHT of the 2014 deadly Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia, many lost friends, families and loved ones to the touch.

WHETHER IT WAS Muslims washing their dead or a grieving family member holding a loved one on the last leg of life, scores fell prey to a virtually unknown outbreak that 11,323 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

SIX YEARS LATER, it is the COVID-19 deadly Coronavirus pandemic that has so far claimed the lives of closed to sixty-two thousand and infected more than a million.

IN LIBERIA, the numbers have been low until now, partly due to the fact that the available testing kits were either incomplete or simply not available.

AS OF SUNDAY, Liberia had recorded 13 confirmed cases. Out of that number, 10 are still alive, including three announced recovery, the index case, Dr. Nathanial Blama, head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

THE DEADLY virus claimed its first casualty, Mr. John Teah, a carpenter in the Maintenance Department of Administration at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.

MR. TEAH was reportedly admitted to the ELWA Hospital on Wednesday and on Thursday he developed hiccup, until he passed on Friday, a family member, speaking to FrontPageAfrica on condition of anonymity, said Saturday.

THE FAMILY SOURCE said the deceased has a medical history of being a high blood pressure patient. “His pressure went up on Wednesday and we rushed him to the hospital on Wednesday, April 2. He was never a suspect of the virus.”

THE CONTROVERSY further heightened when the deceased’s son, Prince Teah, in a Facebook post raised conspiracy theories over his father’s death. “Hello everyone. This is to inform the public that my father John G. Teah, 72, did not die from coronavirus. Please ask the minister how this happened and when he came down with the sickness.”

THE FAMILY WENT as far as taking matters into their own hands, by demanding Mr. Teah’s body, contending that he did not die from Corona. The family claim they are puzzled that in the aftermath of Mr. Teah’s death, the National Public Health Institute(NPHIL) tested him and declared him positive.

THE GOVERNMENT’S CHIEF spokesman, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe, told FrontPageAfrica Saturday that the family is treading a dangerous path. “The denial and resistance by the late John Teah’s family is dangerous. Those members of the family who came in contact with the deceased have to cooperate with the health authorities; get into quarantine and provide all relevant information about his recent travels and movements. We will have to use force to ensure compliance not just with them, but with all others evading the health team. We are at a critical crossroads in this crisis, if we don’t act decisively to break the chain now, we can expect an exponential, devastating increase. This is behavior unacceptable”.

AS CONFUSING AS the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. John Teah is, the most pressing danger to Liberia’s fight against the virus is the lack of coordination between health authorities and the media regarding the dissemination of information to the public.

COORDINATION IS A SERIOUS and dangerous challenge, says Tolbert Nyenswah, former Director General of NPHIL and now a Senior Research Associate and expert with the International Health Department, Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

MR. TOLBERT ASSERTS that the playbook from 2014 March to July, August is repeating itself in a lot of ways. “Lack of command and control in the initial days of the Ebola outbreak caused close to 5000 Liberians lives. There’s no substitute of effective leadership in crisis management. One command and control structure, one strategy, one program, one incident commander that practices distributive leadership.”

THE EXPERT LAMENTS THAT counties’ Incident Management Systems should be empowered to respond. “With 10, COVID-19 cases in Monrovia, Liberians should brace for the worst-case scenario if concrete steps are not taking. Starting with effective coordination, coordination and coordination from the top the President to one incident commander. The systems, technical people, protocols, and strategies are there even at districts and community levels use them.”

FOR TOLBERT, THE EFFECTIVE risks communication, social mobilization, community engagement including working with the media and timely information sharing are critical to outbreaks response. “That’s the best way of getting ahead of the curve. It enhances contacts tracing and community sensitization.”

WHAT IS MORE TROUBLING as murmurs of a lockdown grows, is how the lack of proper coordination by NPHIL and adequate information dissemination regarding tracing of confirmed cases is hurting Liberia’s fight against the outbreak.

NPHIL, IN particular must not shy away from putting out adequate information regarding progress of contact tracing.
TOO MANY reports of selective actions against those in high places is giving rise to distrust, now brought to the core by the family of the late John Teah.

AS LIBERIANS struggle for answers, lingering questions remain: Has the family of Mr. Teah been quarantined? Of the ten confirmed cases announced so far, how many contacts have been traced? Which areas should Liberians be more concerned of and how much investment NPHIL and government is making in disseminating what the public needs to know?

MORE IMPORTANTLY, there is the sad reality of Liberians who have learned nothing from the deadly Ebola virus outbreak and still doubting in spite of everything the rest of the world is going through right now.

SADLY, Liberians have become notorious for sitting and waiting for the last minute before taking things seriously.

LET’S HOPE and pray that those still in doubt begin to see the realities of what is unfolding and knocking on the doorsteps of naysayers and doubting Thomases waiting for the inevitable to explode.

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