Liberia: Health Minister Suggests COVID-19 Testing Kits Being Wasted on the Dead

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“People are still afraid to be identified as having COVID-19 or they are self-medicating at home until it is late. Only two persons have died in the treatment unit. In Liberia, we are testing dead body while neighboring countries are not doing so.”
Dr. Wilhemina Jallah, Minister of Health & Social Welfare


Monrovia – In a Whatzzap chat group discussion with members of the Liberia COVID-19 Task Force, Health Minister Dr. Wilhemina Jallah suggests that Liberia may be wasting much-needed testing kits on the dead rather than the living.

In recent weeks, Liberians both at home and abroad have been raising questions about the testing and treatment methods being used by health authorities in Liberia. Most of those have died from the virus, results were not known until after their death.

According to the minister, most of the deaths in Liberia have taken place at the home of the victims – or late arrival at the health facility. “People are still afraid to be identified as having COVID-19 or they are self-medicating at home until it is late. Only two persons have died in the treatment unit. In Liberia, we are testing dead body while neighboring countries are not doing so,” the minister said.

Liberia has recorded to date 16 deaths to the Coronavirus pandemic. A total of 133 cases have been confirmed while 676 contacts are being traced.

Last week, Murphy V. Dolbah, a nurse assigned at the Palm Springs Hotel, which is being used as a quarantine center for suspected cases of the deadly Coronavirus became the first healthcare worker to fall prey to the virus. However, his result was not known until after his death.

Similarly, on April 3, when Liberia recorded its first coronavirus related death, the family of the victim, John Teah, 72, raised suspicions about the declaration that he had died from the virus, particularly after his test results came after his death.

The ELWA Hospital management clarified in a statement regarding the circumstances surrounding Teah’s death: “On the morning of April 2nd, the Montserrado County Health team was contacted and in cooperation with NPHIL and the MOH the patient was tested for coronavirus infection. While awaiting the result of the laboratory test, the patient expired on April 3rd, 2020. ELWA Hospital was informed of the Covid-19 positive test result on Saturday, April 4th 2020. 

Last weekend’s death of Mr. Marcus Soko, head of the Drug Enforcement Agency was also confirmed as the first high-profile Liberian government official to die from the deadly COVID-19. Like, the case of Dolbah and Teah, his results came after he was pronounced dead.

In Dr. Jallah’s own words, only two persons have actually died from the virus in the treatment facility.

The minister’s comments come as Liberia’s neighbors Ghana and Senegal are making headways with testing.

This week, Senegal’s Institut Pasteur de Dakar  developed a Covid-19 testing kit that costs $1 and can deliver results in about 10 minutes. The institute was able to achieve this by drawing from a wealth of experience gathered from developing vaccines and treatments for several ailments including yellow fever and dengue.

Experts have pointed to delays in getting test results as a key impediment to efforts to track the number of coronavirus tests performed and the spread of the disease.

In Ghana, scientists at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and Incas Diagnostics, both based in the Ashanti Region capital, Kumasi, are currently optimizing the kit for Covid-19 testing.
Ghana’s ability to test in large numbers is helping to spot infections at massive rate, resulting in the faster treatment rate.

Liberia currently has one testing center at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex. But FPA has learned that plans are underway to setup another center before the end of this week in a bid to speed up testing. 

Authorities say, Liberia has the ability to test around 300 persons daily. 

“At the moment, it seems like a Zoe Bush that you do not know what is going on there and so people are frightened.  This is not a death sentence. They can give patient condition, pre-existing morbidity/disease. They also should give post-morten cause and correlated underlying cause of death. These are the things that will build the trust and confidence. At the moment, the minister’s job is to give statistics of infected and death when this actually should be done by the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL).”

The World Bank recently donated US$15 million to Liberia to help combat the killer virus with emphasis on reducing the risks to healthcare workers and increase testing capabilities while ensuring that healthcare workers have insufficient PPEs and adequate training.

Critics say Dr. Jallah’s assertions falls short of what neighbors in Ghana and Senegal are doing.

To date, authorities have been quiet on the treatment protocol being used to treat patients battling COVID-19 cases. 

Critics say the burning issue is that it doesn’t matter whether people infected and dying of COVID-19 are in a private hospital or at home. Besides the point, donor funding is not specific about only people who die within a treatment facility. But rather, the emphasis on testing which leads to capturing the positive, moderate, severe or critical cases and offer a means to treat and those critical ones needing ventilators and the 100% oxygen to improve the lungs and alleviate the thrombosis that lead to their death. 

Critics have also slammed health authorities for not giving daily medical updates of the clinical management of the cases by the attending physicians like Dr. Jerry Brown, to also explain the treatment and improvement of the patients.

Additionally, the failure to provide the name of individual patients or create awareness to encourage people to come forward is also lacking. 

Much of the workings of the COVID-19 team appear to be done in secrecy, complicating and compounding the fight against the pandemic.

As one observer put it Monday: “At the moment, it seems like a Zoe Bush that you do not know what is going on there and so people are frightened.  This is not a death sentence. They can give patient condition, pre-existing morbidity/disease. They also should give post-morten cause and correlated underlying cause of death. These are the things that will build the trust and confidence. At the moment, the minister’s job is to give statistics of infected and death when this actually should be done by the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL).”

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