Liberia’s Health, Information Ministers Differ Over Calling of Names of People Affected with COVID-19

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While the health minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah believes calling names of COVID-19 victims stigmatizes them, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe argues it is necessary for contact tracing

Monrovia – Liberia’s Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah and Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe are at odds over naming people affected with the COVID-19 virus.

Appearing as guests on state radio, LBS Saturday morning, Dr. Jallah declared that it is about ethics in the medical profession and keeping the honor of the “oath of Hippocratic” when she chooses not to name people affected with COVID-19. “It was about confidentiality of her patients,” she says.
Says Dr. Jallah: “I wouldn’t be calling people’s names on the air. I would just say the two of the three new confirm cases are lab technicians, the third was a 72-year-old male who was in isolation at ELWA Hospital. We are calling on contacts of these people to please come forward. COVID is not a death sentenced.”

A Hippocratic Oath is an oath stating the obligations and proper conduct of doctors, formerly taken by those beginning medical practice. Parts of the oath are still used in most medical schools.

“I wouldn’t be calling people’s names on the air. I would just say the two of the three new confirm cases are lab technicians, the third was a 72-year-old male who was in isolation at ELWA Hospital. We are calling on contacts of these people to please come forward. COVID is not a death sentenced.”

Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, Minister of Health

In contrast, Information Minister Nagbe said naming cases is necessary because Liberia is now faced with a critical issue of contact tracing. Thus, he said there is a need for some measures that are not normal to be taken.

Said the minister: “The critical issue we have now is for us to do effective contact tracing and for that to happen we have to utilize some measures that are not utilize during normal times. This pandemic means war. With the capacity of our health system that we know and still building to be resilient; if we allow this virus to spread in a way that see it progressing then the entire existence of our nation is threatened. Therefore, we have to use drastic measures.”

Drawing a line of demarcation, Minister Nagbe averred: “The minister is a health practitioner and she took an oath, a Hippocratic Oath. I did not take it. So, I will call all the people names so that I can take the responsibility to help our contact tracers. I did not take a Hippocratic oath but we have decided for communication purposes for us to go forward.”

The minister frowned on some Liberians seeing the virus as a stigma. “COVID-19 has no stigma why are we hiding ourselves? Watch the International news; why are we hiding ourselves. It is not the normal way to behave but we are not in regular time. World leaders who get infected come out. We don’t have the technology other countries have and we are not in normal times.”

“The minister is a health practitioner and she took an oath, a Hippocratic Oath. I did not take it. So, I will call all the people names so that I can take the responsibility to help our contact tracers. I did not take a Hippocratic oath but we have decided for communication purposes for us to go forward.”

Lenn Eugene Nagbe, Minister of Information

In recent days, public opinion have been divided over the naming of people affected with the virus, mostly due to fears of facing rejection and stigmatization from friends, relatives and loves ones. This act has made many contacts of people affected afraid to come for to be tested. Many believe naming is the wrong way of doing it while others say the practice is necessary for a poor country like Liberia to trace those falling prey to the virus and prevent a major explosion of the virus in Liberia.

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