A Call to National Duty- Sharing Lesson Learnt from Ebola to Defeat COVID-19
A regular adage used in Liberia says, “An experience person is the best teacher”, and another adage that goes along with this is, “ You will need the old mat to plat a new one”, as in the case of template.
Otis S. Bundor, Contributing Writer
Amidst the confirmation of Liberia’s first Coronavirus case, the country became silent as a cemetery during night hours for long period because of the country’s experience in dealing with the deadly Ebola Virus that killed over 4,000 people. Many people lose their family members, love ones and contributed to many single parents and orphans across the country.
Both Corona and Ebola are viruses with much similarity in the prevention. During the Ebola pandemic while working as a Contact tracer/Active case finder, I remembered some of the major problems that created the spread of the virus were, misinformation, denial, poor health system and government negligent to action their words in protecting citizens.
In public health, information sharing and feedback mechanism are very essential to motivate people who are ill to visit medical centers and accept checkup. The media, community leaders, national and international organizations played a bigger role. From the inception of Ebola in Liberia, the general message was, “ Ebola is here and it kills”. This message gave no hope to victims and even push health workers and family members away. This actually led to more people dying from curable illnesses, and others who were infected procured over the counter drugs and contributed to the spread of the EVD.
Most people disagreed that Ebola existed in Liberia. The disagreement of most people was predicated on the fact that Ebola signs and symptoms were similar to existing illnesses-vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and fever. In additional, people could not easily accept that monkey, apes and bat were carrier of the virus and the virus spreads through contact with infected person especially their dead love ones- most people are used to washing dead body before burial. Community dwellers could not easily accept the reality until when they got in contact with a persuasive person such as contact tracer/active case finder or health practitioner who made sufficient research about Ebola virus.
Poor Health System
Liberia had not recovered from the broken health infrastructure and decline of professional health practitioners since the civil crisis in 2003. The emergence of Ebola further exposed weaknesses in the health sector with limited ambulances, poor health facilities, limited drugs and health workers and lack of personal protective equipment. Liberia has never experienced an epidemic similar to Ebola since its existence, thereby showing the limited capacity we have in fighting such contagious disease. As a Contact tracer/Active case finder, I realized people were transported to health centers but were not given attention and some of them even died in the premises of health centers without being attended to by health workers. It took a long time through the help of our international partners- European Union and African Union to provide resources. The national government, community leaders, civil society organizations, media and citizens became very effective in the middle stage of the pandemic to eliminate Ebola from the country.
The government never proved worthy of her leadership during the Ebola crisis. The entire country was disorganized relative to the government organizing and respecting health protocols- the case of dead bodies being in the streets of Monrovia and contributing to wrong messaging provide by organizations. The government had no clear plan to manage information going out to the public and this created distrust couple with systemic corruption. The government through the Ministry of Health increased the distrust through the government failure to provide updates to family members who love ones were taken to medical centers like the quarantine units. As a Contact tracer/Active case finder, I along with my team were driven away from some homes in West point because we could not provide information about their family members health status. Furthermore, most of quarantine centers around the country were not equip to contain Ebola victims and this signaled negative message for those who were still home. However, few quarantine units like the Chinese quarantine unite started releasing people who were not infected with the virus and even treating Ebola victims- they were later release to their families with certificates. This actually contributed to trust building in the community.
Coronavirus is new to the world and with Liberia confirming its first case, the country must avoid making the same mistakes as was done in Ebola fight. Coronavirus disease is an infectious disease cause severe acute respiratory syndrome. It was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan and industrial site in China. Since then, the virus has spread globally and has killed over 10,000 people. The signs and symptoms cannot be limited to fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and muscle pain. Some progress to severe pneumonia and multi-organ failure. However, the death rate per number of diagnosed cases is estimated to be 3.4% but varies by age and other health conditions.
The government must institute measures to make sure all COVID-19 messages are synchronized and accurate before releasing to the public. This also entails messages provided by international and national organizations. Many information are available on the internet by citizens and other foreign nationals which cannot be easily control and are not correct. To mitigate this, the government must setup a platform which will be used to provide accurate information. The must also be a hope in the messaging of the rate at which one can survive if infected by COVID-19, and it should not be like, “ Coronavirus kills and it’s here”.
This will have two edges- the government must build trust and community members also obligated to implement all protocols provided by government and credible institutions. Both COVID-19 and Ebola are similar because their signs and symptoms had preexisted before these viruses. All citizens must see this fight as theirs because we can only defeat COVID-19 if we accept to live by the guidelines provided by health authorities.
Poor Health System
With less than a decade and a slump in real GDP that has affected Liberia growth rate since the Ebola pandemic, the 2019/2020 Fiscal year budget allotment is US$ 81,557,132 out of US$526million. This amount is a little above US$69million that was allotted out of US$582.93million in 2013/2014 Fiscal year.
The country can now boost of the experience we gained from the Ebola crisis and knowledge transfer during the crisis that landed us to defeat Ebola.
In spite of these advantages, the government must improve the various health centers with immediate training of health workers, Contact tracers/Active case finders, community leaders and create awareness in all communities. All quarantine centers must be accessible with enough medical supplies, trained health practitioners and personal protective equipment. The government must be responsible to provide timely updates to family members and community leaders on the health statuses of people who are taking to the quarantine centers. All those who are tested negative and victims who are treated and well must be released to their family with a certificate. In addition this, the government must produce a short video of all quarantine centers to encourage people who are ill to give in for quarantining. The availability of active and responsive call center with mobile health team must never be underestimated because this will contribute to building trust in the system.
The Government of Liberia must be proactive and not passive
As in the case of Ebola, the Liberian government reneged on her responsibilities at the inception that contributed to citizens throwing dead bodies on major streets and dumpsites. In time of crisis, citizens look up to their government for direction and leadership. The government must get citizens especially local leaders to form part of every decision that will affect their communities and quarantine centers must never be built in densely populated communities as was done during the Ebola pandemic in West point.
Liberia is currently face with economic instability with rise in general price level and minimization of citizens welfare. All citizens must unite to eliminate Coronavirus and the Liberian government must encourage and negotiate with business owners to import more basic commodities such as rice, vegetable oil, sanitizer and all items that will be needed to fight this menace. With producing countries like China, Japan and the USA also fighting Coronavirus, we might face shortage in supplies of medical supplies and other provisions to sustain citizens.
Otis S. Bundor
Former Contact tracer/Active case finder-Ebola pandemic
With over 5-year experience in community development
Tel: 231-886-964-818/776452477, [email protected]