26 March 2014

Liberia: Fearing Ebola - Liberians Cautious As Virus Report Spreads

Photo: Boakai M. Fofana/AllAfrica
A sign at the fruit section of a grocery store urging customers to wear gloves, as Liberians worry about the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

At the Era Supermarket in Sinkor, several employees could be seen wearing gloves as what the manager told FrontPageAfrica Tuesday, was a precautionary measure to thwart the potential spread of the deadly Ebola virus to Liberia from next door Guinea.

Some offices around the city have been holding meetings with their employees to explain how to prevent the disease. As fear gripped the city, nurses and patients at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center were in panic mode after a patient from Ganta, Nimba County was brought down for treatment after experiencing bleeding nose.

Health Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale when contacted immediately allayed fears when he told FrontPageAfrica that doctors at the hospital dismissed that the patient had Ebola. FrontPageAfrica has been unable to confirm another suspected case in the New Kru Town area. News of the rapid spread of the disease came as Canadian authorities on Tuesday isolated a man showing symptoms of haemorrhagic fever resembling Ebola after travelling from Liberia.

According to the Associated Press, the man who recently travelled to West Africa is seriously ill and being kept in isolation in a Canadian hospital with symptoms of a haemorrhagic fever resembling the Ebola virus. He fell ill after returning from the West African nation of Liberia, said Saskatchewan deputy chief medical health officer Dr Denise Werker on Monday.

She said tests have been sent to the public health agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Results are expected on Tuesday, but Werker said they may be inconclusive. "All we know at this point is that we have a person who is critically ill who travelled from a country where these diseases occur," Werker said. "There is no risk to the general public at all about this."

Werker was quoted as saying that health workers caring for the man at a hospital in the city of Saskatoon were taking precautions by wearing masks, gowns, gloves and boots. She said haemorrhagic fevers are not easily spread. But Canada's Health Ministry later announced that the man, returning from Liberia was not infected with the Ebola virus. He was hospitalized and isolated on returning from West Africa with symptoms consistent with the virus.

Haemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola can be transmitted through direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person, or objects that have been contaminated with infected secretions. The Ebola virus leads to severe haemorrhagic fever and internal bleeding and has no vaccine or specific treatment. Werker said the man showed no signs of illness while he was travelling. The incubation period for haemorrhagic fever is up to 21 days, she said.

"Viral haemorrhagic fever is a generic name for a number of rather exotic diseases that are found in Africa," Werker said. This class of diseases includes Ebola haemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever and yellow fever. Ebola is one of the most contagious viral diseases known, often resulting in death. The virus cannot be prevented with a vaccine and is untreatable with medication.

Lawmakers Declare National Emergency

Members of the National Legislature have greeted the news of suspected Ebola cases in Liberia with a great deal of seriousness with both the Senate and the House of Representatives mandating their Health Committees to closely work with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in tackling the disease.

On Tuesday during their separate regular sessions, the issue of the outbreak of the disease was discussed with consensus for collaborative efforts with the Executive Branch of government through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in tackling the spread of the disease. Senator Peter Coleman of Grand Kru County who once served as Minister of Health of Liberia told his colleagues to take seriously the current news of the spread of the virus in Liberia by making interventions in the best interest of the population.

Senator Coleman also stressed isolation and confinement of affected persons as some of the surest ways of preventing the virus from spreading to others and the need to make a national decision in terms of the provision of funding to the national emergency efforts. Also at the House of Representatives, a communication from Representative Eugene Fallah Kparkar (CDC, Foyah District), Lofa county where there are suspected cases of the disease was read in plenary.

In the letter, Representative Kaprkar requested plenary to mandate the health committee to work in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to hasten the necessary preventive and remedial measures to protect Liberians against the deadly Ebola disease.

The Lofa lawmaker stressed the need for an urgent effort to stop the spread of the deadly disease which has the propensity of wreaking havoc on impoverished Liberians. He referenced his visit in the border City of Foyah, Lofa County, his constituency and said; he was informed that two persons who were likely diagnosed with the virus have suddenly passed out.

Representative Kparkar said:" I feel profoundly honor to express my sentiment of the highest esteem and also wish to express with utter dismay the alarming rate at which the deadly Ebola virus has begun to rage hell in Guinea. There is no doubt that this disease if not acted upon will have a spillover effect in neighboring countries."

Residents want stronger government action

Several residents of Monrovia and environs want stronger efforts on the part of the Government in tackling the disease with some calling for the closure of the two borders between Liberia and Guinea and also that of Sierra Leone. Cooper Ikpah, a Student of the University of Liberia wants the government to declare Lofa County and emergency zone and immediately close the border to prevent spread of the disease

Said Ikpah "I think government should declare it as a situation of emergency so as to curtail the spread of the virus. Look my brother Ebola Virus is almost dangerous as the situation of war so for the government to take it lightly is worrisome. The Government should declare Lofa now as an emergency zone; people who will be coming from Lofa to Town [Monrovia] should be tested because if this is not done those affected may spread it to other parts of the country".

The University student believes by closing the border, it will help prevent further spread of the deadly virus: "The first decision that should be taking right now by the government is to close the border between Liberia and Guinea. Our country has a very weak health care system so to have an Ebola outbreak in Liberia is very dangerous and worrisome. We need international partners to come to our aid because we do not have the capacity to combat Ebola. The government should begin taking ridicule measures before this situation becomes alarming".

Gboto Brooks, a resident of Paynesville wants concrete action from the Government but does not agree for the closure of the borders with neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

"This is sad news for our country that we have an Ebola outbreak in parts of Lofa, I tend not to agree with people who say that our border should be closed. For the government to close the border between Liberia and Guinea is not a good decision because this decision will affect our economy and our relationship with Guinea. The issue is not about closing borders, but rather coordinating with the Guinea government and international organization like WHO to find a way that we all can solve this problem", said Brooks.

According to him, when the border is closed it will affect people who largely depend on trade to survive, saying " I know this virus is deadly, but we need to handle this situation without closing our borders in fact we need other countries support because we do not have trained medical practitioners to deal with this Ebola virus".

Alexander Mulbah, a citizen from the affected Lofa County, residing in Monrovia who said he had just returned from Lofa two days ago said the news of Ebola is worrisome explaining that in Lofa people are afraid to shake hands for fear of contacting Ebola.

Said Mulbah: "Even while in Lofa let me be bold with you people in Lofa are worrying and panicking over this Ebola news. I was in Voinjama but let me inform you that when I got in Zorzor I could not even get down from the car I had put my car glass up because all of us were afraid. I tell you this news is very troubling I tell you our people are worrying, especially the business people nobody is buying chicken, meat, and other fresh animals people fear that they may contact it by eating them".

He said some information provided about the disease might not be true, "There are lots of information out there that are not truthful so we need the Ministry of Health to provide the public with the proper and right information. Those who say the government is making this up are not serious, look my brother, I saw how doctors were dressed or though I did not see any Ebola patient but Lofa is tense with the news". Mulbah agrees with others that the border be closed until the situation improves.

"I think for now we should close our borders while weighing other options if Liberians will get affected by having interactions with Guineans then we need to close our borders so as to save our state because the disease is spread through physical contact. If the border is closed that minimize the people coming from Guinea to Liberia and then the government can begin testing people in that region so as to identify people who are affected and begin giving them the necessary medical attention if this done this disease in a week or two it will spread in the whole of Lofa the border between Lofa and Guinea is just sometime car road".

Augustine Koyan also wants the Government to put in place the proper mechanisms in fighting the Ebola virus. Koyan said "This news is quite discouraging what I want for central government to do is to put the right mechanisms in place so as to get a trace of this Ebola and begin creating massive awareness so our people can take the necessary preventive measures."

"I think government should implore a measure where people from Guinea coming in Liberia can be tested because we cannot close the border most of our people depend on Guinea to trade because of the distance from Lofa to Monrovia". Another citizen of the affected Lofa County, Momo Teah,wants the border closed in order to protect citizens of Lofa County and prevent further spread.

"For me we need to protect our citizens in Lofa County we urged the national government to take action in that region by closing the border. This news as I learned can travel through the air so there should be a restriction on people movement for now. We as citizens of Lofa County are appealing to the government so as to tackle this disease in a timely manner".

He fears the disease will spread rapidly when not tackled, saying "If nothing is done to resolve this national problem, it spread to Bong county, Margibi and to Monrovia so, this is a serious situation that should be addressed by this government without any delay in allocating funding to tackle this virus.

I worry about government capacity in handling this disease so we are asking friendly nations and organizations to come to the aid of L Iberia. Government needs to put system in place so we do not have a case like what's happening during the caterpillar invasion because this one has to do with our people lives".

Teah says corruption could hinder the fight against the delay Ebola and war against such on the part of those in authority. "We know that corruption is in this country and everybody wants to get rich from every little thing so we ask the government to set up a task force headed by a civil society member so that any money generated cannot be misused".

The rising fears in the city have come just 24 hours after authorities reported 11 suspected Ebola cases and five deaths, after the deadly virus spread from neighboring Guinea where it killed at least 59 people. The cases were detected in the districts of Zorzor, Lofa and Foyah, near the Liberia's northern border with Guinea, according to the health department.

"The disease is reported to be spreading along the border with Liberia, specifically in the communities and towns close to Guinea towns of Guekedou, Nzerekore, Kissidougou and Macenta," the health department's chief medical officer, Bernice Dahn, told FrontPage Africa.

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