FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

Liberia: Running From Ebola - in Liberia, Medics Reject Suspected Cases

Photo: The New Dawn
Man arrested for setting the health ministry ablaze.

Monrovia — Liberia faces the hectic task of battling the outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus which has claimed 94 lives as of July 13, with Montserrado County accounting for 42 deaths, Lofa 49; Margibi 2, and Bomi 1, according to the Ministry of health and Social Welfare in a report entitled "Liberia Ebola SitRep no. 60", as the virus continues to spread, causing panic across the country.

Donations and goodwill of donors and friends to Liberia are forthcoming -the world Health Organization recently donated assorted materials and safety equipment, European Union, Nigeria and others are amongst the list of those identifying with Liberia during these troubled times. The Chinese and others have also provided materials and safety equipment to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to fight Ebola.

A Few days ago, Nigeria announced a commitment of US$500,000 to Liberia to help tackle the Ebola crisis and before that funding reaches Liberia, the Ebola fight is getting goodwill with vehicles plying the streets bearing inscription such as "Ebola Response Team" but why nurses and other medical practitioners are refusing suspected Ebola patients rather than chasing from one community to another to get patients remains a mystery.

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare has released numbers for hotlines informing the public to call those numbers in case anyone is sick and showing symptoms of the virus warning family members to stay away from touching such people showing symptoms of the virus. Ebola Response vehicles are roaming the streets of Monrovia but onboard the vehicles are not health workers wearing protective gears in readiness to receive suspected patients, but officials wearing suits. Some of the vehicles, FrontPageAfrica has learned are being used as transport for employees instead of monitoring hospitals for suspected cases.

Suspected patients who make their way as far as the referral John F. Kennedy Medical Center where an Ebola center is operational are kept waiting at the entrance for long periods, raising doubts as to whether the vehicles roaming the streets are in search of suspected patients especially when suspected patients are rejected right in the hospital compound.

On Wednesday, right under the nose of the man spearheading the massive call for support to the fight against Ebola in Liberia, Assistant Health Minister for Curative Service, Tolbert Nyenswah, a suspected patient was kept lying in front of the Cholera unit now operating as the Ebola treatment center.

Medics keep suspected patient waiting

Barely few hours before the commencement of a reintegration ceremony for Mr. Claudius Banarwolo, an Ebola survivor who contracted the disease from a colleague nurse at the Redemption Hospital few weeks ago, an unknown man suspected of the deadly virus was quickly rushed at the JFK Cholera Unit by his brother who claimed that his relative has been vomiting with blood and showing consistent signs of weakness at their West Point residence. Banarwolo and his family members were joyfully awaiting a reintegration program after he successfully completed a 21 day period battling the Ebola virus he contracted from a nurse weeks ago when the suspected patient arrived shortly. The arrival of the suspected patient quickly drew the attention of some residents of the 24th street community where the JFK Cholera Unit is situated as many rushed to take a glimpse at the patient who was lying squarely before the entrance of the unit vomiting with blood while awaiting heath workers to attend to him. The brother of the patient who preferred not to be named informed FrontPageAfrica on the scene that since two days, his sick brother has always complained of cold in his body and earlier Wednesday morning the situation became worse as his brother began vomiting profusely with blood and was weak to move around.

They say we must not enter

He told FPA that after transporting his brother from West Point to the JFK main entrance by means of a taxi cab, securities and some heath workers did not allow his brother's entry to the hospital through the main gate but redirected them to the cholera unit. Said the patient's brother: "I transported him from our house until I reached to the JFK. I felt that he had cold that's why I carried him through the main gate, but the people send me this side. My brother told me he was feeling cold, but after that he started vomiting with blood that's why I brought him here, but they say we must not enter."

Upon arrival at the Cholera unit on 24th street, Sinkor, in the full presence of some medical doctors and Health Ministry authorities, including the Assistant Minister for Preventive Services Tolbert Nyenswah and some members of the media the patient and his brother were initially asked by health workers assigned at the unit to follow what they termed as "normal procedure in the Ebola response system."

For perhaps failing to contact the Ebola hotline for an ambulance to pick up his sick brother from their West Point residence, for nearly thirty minutes, the suspected Ebola patient was seen lying abandoned by health workers while he vomited with blood at the entrance of the JFK Cholera unit. After several consultations among members of the Ebola response team posted at the time, two heath workers later arrived from the fence of the Cholera unit to attend to the patient who was then sprayed with disinfected substances before being taken for further medical care.

Patients did not come the right way

Explaining the action of the health workers not to promptly attend to the patient, the Chairman of the Case Management Committee Dr. Moses Massaquoi told FrontPageAfrica that the patient did not come the right way for medication because he should have called the Ebola response unit through the hotlines for an ambulance to transport them to the hospital.

Said Dr. Massaquoi: "We don't just treat patients. We go through investigation. You might have seen me closing the door. It did not mean we are not running through the system. As soon as we ran through the system and we got the information, we took him in even though he was not brought in the right way. So we did not refuse him, that's why he's now considered a case."

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare is operating the Ebola center at the JFK and is also in control of all the donations for Ebola including the vehicles and other safety equipment. From the recent deaths of nurses and a Ugandan Doctor, it seems the Ministry is not doing enough to protect nurses and also provide them the necessary tool and incentives to fight the virus.

How're Liberia's Neighbors treating Ebola?

The Ebola various has become a sub regional crisis affecting three West African countries with common borders-Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Another neighboring country, not affected so far, Ivory Coast is taking every step to prevent the entry of the deadly virus on its soil. Ivory Coast on Tuesday blocked 400 refugees who fled to Liberia from returning home because of fears they could spread the Ebola virus, a UN official said.

The decision violated domestic and international law, the official added, but the country said it could not allow the refugees in because of the Ebola "pandemic" in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The three neighboring countries have seen the worst outbreak of Ebola the world has ever seen with 603 people dead so far. There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola, which spreads through contact with an infected person's bodily fluids.

In Sierra Lone according to travelers along the border, centers have been set up at major entry points and upon entering the Sierra Leonean side of the border from Liberia; travelers are screened before entry into that country. For example the Bo-waterside border of Liberia with Sierra Leone in Grand Cape Mount County has no such center on the Liberian side of the border where people moving from Sierra Leone and entering the country are screened for Ebola.

WHO Opens Coordination center In Guinea

On Tuesday, the WHO announced that the organization African Region plans to activate a coordination center in Conakry, Guinea. "The center will act as a control and coordination platform, consolidating and harmonizing the technical support to the West African countries, including assisting in resource mobilization," WHO announced on its website.

WHO Said personnel at the coordination center will comprise a direction, regional advisers, epidemiologists, communications experts, social mobilization specialists, data managers, administrative officers, and other support staff. WHO also noted that the three countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak -- Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone -- are reviewing and updating their Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) national response plans.

The center will also boost Guinea's fight against the deadly virus and with Sierra Leone already creating centers along its main border points with Liberia to screen travelers; Liberia now has to step up efforts to fight the virus. With patients having to wait for long periods before being attended to by medics, many Liberians are shunning hospitals for fear of not being pronounced as suffering from Ebola.

Some Liberians now prefer getting treatment at home, fearing that based on the fact that symptoms of Ebola are also symptoms of other common diseases at first glance during visit to medical facilities in the absence of testing, they could be perceived as having Ebola.

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