NPHIL Needs To Be Very Careful When Dealing With Test Results

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THERE HAVE been several other missteps health authorities have made since the outbreak. We do not expect an error-free response; nevertheless, we would not appreciate an error-prone national response.

ONE OF THE worst challenges every country faces in dealing with the novel Coronavirus is tackling misinformation about the pandemic. So, in a country like Liberia where denial about the existence of the virus is a looming threat to the response efforts against the pandemic, public health officials must act meticulously to avert any public relations bloopers.

WHILE WE WANT to laud Dr. Mosoka Fallah and his team at the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL) for their significant role in the battle against COVID-19, we also want to stress here that they MUST avoid making mistakes that might most likely undercut their own efforts.

WE POINT to the Friday, July 10 incident involving NPHIL and Dr. Alaric Tokpa – a prominent Liberian politician. In that incident mistakes were made with the test result of Dr. Tokpa.

DR. TOKPAH had planned to travel on July 10 to the United States and was only awaiting his COVID-19 result. When his result was delaying, he then sent an SMS to Dr. Fallah inquiring about his results as he was scheduled to leave the country during the evening of Friday, July 10. Dr. Fallah who showed willingness to intervene speedily ascertain about Dr. Tokpa’s result, requested his case number and when Dr. Fallah sought the result from the Laboratory, it showed that Dr. Tokpa was positive although he was previously told that he was negative.

THE APPARENT mismatched angered Dr. Tokpa, causing him to take to social media and the mainstream media to express his disappointment in the testing process. An error is an error, but the ramifications can sometimes be very egregious. In this case, Dr. Tokpa suffered a grave injury. Missing his flight to the US is a damage he suffered but enduring the trauma of being tested negative and then tested positive is traumatizing.

BEYOND DR. Tokpa’s dilemma lies a bigger problem: public trust in the testing system. Because there is a margin for error when doing these tests, results will have to be doubled check and release meticulously. Folks at the reference lab must limit any chance of this kind of mistake. This is the kind of situation that will cause people not TO voluntarily show-up for testing.

IF WE WANT to encourage people to do their test, we need to ensure that the system is trustworthy and dependable. We know COVID-19 is a novel disease and the entire Scientific community is still grappling with its peculiar characteristics. There have also been concerns about faulty test kits, which supports a reasonable argument that tests results would sometime be done more than once to verify the result.

WE COME to realize that tackling COVID-19 requires two effective responses: a robust clinical approach where testing, isolation and treatment are at the crux of the strategy on one hand and on the other, an effective risk communication strategy. The two must go hand-in-hand because to have people change their behavior will require effective communications. Ensuring that they understand why wearing mask, washing hands and social distancing are essential and why they should be willing to test for the virus. We cannot allow these incidents like the ones involving Dr. Tokpa. It is a gaffe that distracts us from the bigger picture – stopping the spread of the contagion. To do this means NPHIL must be assiduous when dealing with results.

HOWBEIT, we must avoid the mishaps that has the proclivity to undermine the response efforts. Results must be thoroughly sorted to avoid mismatching identities. We think that if we must increase our chances of flattening the curve, we must do more testing and ensure patients are isolated and treated. But we must, at the same time, maintain public confidence in the system – this is vital to the entire process absent this we have a massive catastrophe.

THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION and other international public health organizations have all stressed the need for more testing, something we are seeing happening in Liberia in recent weeks. We are cognizant that more testing will obviously lead to more confirmed cases and with effective isolation and treatment patients will have an improved chance of recovery. This is the prophylaxis for COVID-19; at least this method has worked for many countries.

BUT IT IS not the surge in the cases we are now concern about; we are worried that public relations drama like the recent incident involving Dr. Tokpa will instigate negative public perception about the testing process – a situation we cannot afford to endure.

DR. FALLAH and his lieutenants must be accurate with patient’s test result. Simple! They must restore public trust and confidence while working to maintain Scientific response efforts.

LIKE THE TOKPA SAGA, there was another ridiculous incident of May 7, when a woman was seen fleeing the quarantine center at the Palm Spring Hotel in Congo Town after she was forced to overstayed because her test result was wrongly handled. That incident sent a negative perception to the public and ignited one of the first controversies of NPHIL’s handling of the health crisis.

THERE HAVE been several other missteps health authorities have made since the outbreak. We do not expect an error-free response; nevertheless, we would not appreciate an error-prone national response.

IT IS NO SECRET that our society is vulnerable and gullible. Rumors and misinformation can quickly become entranced. Therefore, we cannot continue to create room for more skepticism and denial or create a situation for people to turn away from the testing process. We still have a fresh memory of the Ebola epidemic – we do not want to relive those dreadful days when our health system was pushed to its limits causing over 4,000 of our compatriots to fall prey to a similar invisible enemy.

WE COME to realize that tackling COVID-19 requires two effective responses: a robust clinical approach where testing, isolation and treatment are at the crux of the strategy on one hand and on the other, an effective risk communication strategy. The two must go hand-in-hand because to have people change their behavior will require effective communications. Ensuring that they understand why wearing mask, washing hands and social distancing are essential and why they should be willing to test for the virus. We cannot allow these incidents like the ones involving Dr. Tokpa. It is a gaffe that distracts us from the bigger picture – stopping the spread of the contagion. To do this means NPHIL must be assiduous when dealing with results.

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