Liberia: The Resurgence of Ebola – It’s Time to Shut the Borders
WHEN THE DEADLY Ebola virus outbreak hit the West African subregion in 2014, a total of 28,616 cases and 11,310 deaths were recorded in in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
THE DISEASE HIT the three countries from 2014 to 2015.
THE INDEX CASE was actually recorded in 2014 in Guinea. A two-year-old boy died in December 2013 in the village of Meliandou, Gueckedou Prefecture. The boy’s mother, sister, and grandmother then became ill with similar symptoms and also died.
THIS TRIGGERED rapid spread of the disease with multiple infections in the three countries.
NEARLY SEVEN YEARS Later, the deadly virus is back. On February 14, Guinea, from where the first case originated to Liberia, reported 7 suspected cases in the southeast of the country, in an area close to the Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone borders creating fears that it could spread wider across the region, with early reports of a new case already in Sierra Leone.
THE FIRST REPORTED case was of a female health worker, marking the first time the disease had been reported in the country since the end of the devastating West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2016 that left over 11,000 people dead.
THIS COMES as there is also yet another resurgence of Ebola in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Cases both in Guinea and the DRC are in hard-to-reach areas.
THIS WEEK, the Liberian government, through the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute, dispatched a team of epidemiologists to counties bordering Guinea, in a bid to assess the situation.
PRESIDENT GEORGE MANNEH WEAH, has issued a mandate, activating surveillance measures in order prevent the transmission of the disease on Liberian soil.
SEVERAL EPIDEMIOLOGISTS are expected to support the county Health Teams of Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Bong, Lofa and Nimba counties. Other County Health Teams, including Montserrado, have also heightened their alert levels.
WHILE WE welcome the early steps taken by the Weah administration, the government must go a step further by shutting the borders with both Sierra Leone and Guinea immediately, especially when Liberia has not yet recorded any case.
THE REASON FOR THIS is simple. When the virus hit Liberia back in 2013, the former administration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf dragged its feet despite mounting calls for her government to shut down the border with Guinea, after the first few cases were reported.
THE GOVERNMENT’S FAILURE led to an avalanche of cases in Liberia and killed scores of people all because the government of Madam Sirleaf failed to act in time.
TODAY, WE APPLAUD the Ministry of Health, along with the National Public Health Institute(NPHIL), for constituting a new Incident Management System on Ebola Virus, as a preemptive strategy to assess Liberia’s preparedness. Liberian health authorities say they desire not to have the new IMS-Ebola virus response efforts interfere with the current COVID-19 response.
HOWEVER, IN AS MUCH as this is a welcome development, nothing comes closer to taking the ultimate preventative measure and closing borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea.
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER is Liberia and most countries in the region have been spared massive death tolls and infections of the deadly Covid 19 pandemic.
AS OF THIS WEEK, confirmed cases of Covid-19 from 55 African countries reached 3,763,067. Reported deaths in Africa reached 99,412 and 3,318,841 people have recovered. South Africa has the most reported cases – 1,494,119 – and 48,313 people died. Other most-affected countries are Morocco ( 479,071 ), Tunisia ( 224,329 ), Egypt ( 175,059 ), Ethiopia ( 148,490 ), and Nigeria ( 148,296 ).
AS WE ALL KNOW, Corona is not Ebola and is far more deadly and kills more rapidly than the COVID 19.
PRESIDENT HAS DONE the right thing by mandating the relevant government agencies and related stakeholders to increase the country’s epi-survillance and preventative activities as a result of the Ebola resurgence. Sadly, however, this is not enough.
BALLA SIDIBE, Regional Director of CARE West Africa aptly described what is looming. “This has terrifying echoes of the 2013 outbreak, which also started in Guinea. Countries across the region are also currently dealing with a second peak of COVID-19, but unlike COVID-19, Ebola has much higher mortality rates, and could pose even bigger risks to a weakened population that are suffering economic and health impacts of COVID-19, as well as high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition. In many of these countries, health facilities are already overstretched with COVID-19 and are likely to be overwhelmed should we face another expansion of the Ebola pandemic in this region.”
AS SIDIBE ASSERTS: “A big worry is that the cases could spread into neighboring countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali. Once again, we have seen the risks our frontline health workers face every day, especially women, who make up 70% of the global health force. And we know that disease outbreaks have very gendered impacts and affect men and women differently, so we will be carrying out rapid gender analyses as part of our response to understand specific needs and apply learnings from the last Ebola outbreak.”
WHILE A LOT is known about Ebola as a result of the 2014 experience, massive sensitization about the risks, transmission modes and prevention measures are key.
THE LESSONS FROM THE 2014 outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone should serve as reminder that the lack of adequate preparation and action could go a long way in preventing Ebola from spreading rapidly across the sub-region as it did in 2014.
AS IF THE DEADLY COVID19 pandemic is not enough, the region clearly does not need an outbreak of Ebola on its hands.
IT IS OUR HOPE THAT authorities in Guinea and Sierra Leone are taking the necessary steps to avert a wider spread of the disease. In the meantime, authorities in Liberia must do what is right this time around to avoid a repeat of the missteps in 2014 that led to the deaths of many innocent lives which could have been saved had a little bit more attention been paid to the little details we often seem to overlook or ignore.