Liberia: Fear Heightens Over Possible Spread of COVID-19 Amongst Drug Addicts
Monrovia – If any disadvantaged youth otherwise known as “Zogos” contracts an infectious disease such as the coronavirus disease, there is a high risk that the disease will spread amongst them, says Alvin Willams Barnes, a disadvantaged youth of 72nd community in Paynesville city.
Barnes told FrontPageAfrica that they have been forsaken by the government and NGOs operating in the country. He said getting food, safe drinking water and medicine remains a challenge.
Disadvantaged youths in Liberia are mostly seen in major streets in the country, with majority lacking safe dwelling, while few are managing to survive on handouts. Although government seems to be making efforts to get them from the street, the efforts are not adequate, and their vulnerability is even worsening as the number of COVID-19 cases increases by the day in the country.
Some disadvantaged youths who spoke with FrontPageAfrica threatened non-compliance with established health regulations for containment and prevention of the COVID-19. They say they could go about their normal way of life if no attention is given them since they can no longer bear the burden of being stationary without any hope for survival.
They are usually found in parking stations where they serve as car loaders; others are at street corners begging for alms, while yet another engage in petty robbery, pickpocketing amongst others as their way of life.
They have no specific homes. Many sleep unfinished buildings; some sleep in old cars while others live in the grave sites.
In the meantime, most of these disadvantaged youths squarely rely on their “normal hustles” to get on with life, whereby they have to come in contact with host of commuters to beg for alms or pretend car-loading to survive at the mercy of others, a situation which makes them susceptible to contracting the coronavirus disease.
However, this dependent lifestyle, some members of the group said, is unbearable. Others indicated that they are unable to relax at home without getting food or medication, which they said are their pressing needs.
In a chat with this reporter, Barnes, a college dropout, said neither the government nor any civil society groupings including international NGOs has shown concern for them since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Liberia. This, he said, left them with no means of getting food to survive, face masks, medicine and soap or detergents to wash our hands for prevention.
As a result, of this, Barnes said some of the disadvantaged youths are grumbling – wanting to get back at what he called “our normal hustle” for daily bread, while COVID-19 awareness on the hand remains low amongst them.
“People called us ‘Zogos’, but we called ourselves, the “Good Guys Association,” he exclaimed as he resounded their call to the government and humanitarian organizations for help.
‘Officials no longer looking our direction’
Barnes said officials who visited them prior to the outbreak are no longer looking in their direction.
“People like Representative Thomas Fallah have been coming here to speak with us. But they have stopped coming since the COVID-19 crisis,” he explained.
“All these visits before the outbreak by state officials turn out to be lies.’”
At the advent of the outbreak and since then, Barnes said they were being restricted by state security forces from the streets where they daily go for alms.
He emphasized that they can barely get food, medication, and preventive materials such as detergent and buckets amongst others, which could make them to be complacebt with the preventive measure announced by the government against the COVID-19.
Though he said the security restriction has continued to impede them from complying with the pronounced hygiene practices at the “Good Guys” Hangout. He and his boss identified as “Bennieman” have ensure that more than 200 of them use a container that was used as bucket to fetch drinking water for hand washing.
Barnes further said the disadvantaged youths resolved to do collection of money amongst themselves to purchase locally produced masks to be compliant with that aspect of the established health protocols.
What worries him is the fact that more than 20 persons sleep in one room while the hangout is usually cluster with more than 150 persons at a time, whenever food is available for them.
“We, ourselves, can do some turning around to buy small food and medicine when our friends are sick; but that is not enough because we are over 200 here,” he lamented.
Barnes reiterated that they are susceptible to contracting the deadly virus, saying that should any of them gets infected with the coronavirus, more of them will die which will be blamed on NGOs and government’s failure to cater for them.
Speaking on their addiction, he said their leadership have issued a mandate that more than three persons should not, at the same time, go into an area they prepared for smoking and disclosed that this regulation is part of the preventive measures among them.
Concerning what he sees as the most pressing challenge amongst them, Barnes named access to adequate information about the COVID-19 among those at the “Hangout”.
“No health worker has come here to create awareness. It is I instead who have attended one or two programs where I received information on the disease and pass it on to my guys. We do not have radio with us except for my small phone, which I and our head used to get information which we spread around to our colleagues,” he added.
Another disadvantaged youth at the Redlight Market, Larmie Borbor, lamented the difficulties they face in getting food, safe drinking water and medicine.
He says providing awareness on Covid-19, food and medication are pressing needs for many of them in the Redlight Market area.
He said apart from hand washing, his hangout has instituted their own way of preventing COVID-19 from spreading among them.
“When anyone here falls sick, we can stop you FROM coming among us; we call in the community chair to take you away,” Borbor said, adding that they are afraid of contracting COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Borbor expressed the importance for government to get them to safe homes where they can be rehabilitated.
The Executive Director of “Zogos, We Care”, a community-based organization, Rev. Caleb Dormah, says the health crisis has created difficulties for disadvantaged youths.
“Their way of faring for themselves has been limited, they have medical needs as well,” Dormah said, while calling on policy makers to make urgent interventions.
“In as much as politicians will go to the disadvantaged people for votes, so too it is important to for the politicians to cater for their well-been provide for them at this time when they are in need.”
The clergyman continued: “We have to seek their welfare and in seeking their welfare, we must also do something to adjust our drugs Law – make them stronger. We cannot continue to victimize the victims, because we know those who bring the drugs are among those who have brought the trouble upon these people.”
He however said he has been catering for their needs but added that they are in huge numbers at the Center Street and other places that his organization alone does not have the capacity to address all their needs.
On the issue of effectively practicing the preventive measure, Rev. Dormah added: “It’s literally impossible for them to stick to straight adherence to the preventive measures. This is because these people are cluster together in one room, and the building they use for shelter is not in good sanitary condition.”
The Cleric lamented: “Some of them use the same buildings that shelter them for latrine, while others used the cemeteries for their shelter. Living with such condition will not help unless government intervenes to take them to a rehabilitation canter for some skill trainings.”
Therefore, he said continuous efforts are underway by his organization to carry out face-to-face awareness among these disadvantaged youths for least once a week.
Although the disadvantaged folks may be educated on preventive measure, he is pessimistic that they will not be able practice all of the established health protocols because they clustered whenever food is taken to them for reason that each person wants to be the first to get.
Samuel David, deputy information officer of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), said nothing has been done by the entity so far to provide COVID-19 preventive materials for the disadvantaged youths.
However, he said LRRRC has been distributing materials to refugees in various counties.
“The reason we have not reach-out to them is due to lack of funding. We have no money and until we can get funding, our concentration is now on refugees,” David said.
Mr. David said it is the responsibility of every Liberian to help address challenges faced by wayward youths, and not government alone.