30 July 2014

Liberia: Dead Bodies - Health Ministry Failing to Pick Up Abandoned

As the deadly Ebola virus continues to spread, Liberians are panicking as dead bodies of people who have died from unknown causes continue to dawdle around the city of Monrovia and its environs without the Ministry of Health collecting them. The situation is creating Health hazard as communities worry that Liberia's Health ministry is incapacitated to cater to the Ebola crisis.

Monrovia - Following the government of Liberia's declaration of a national health emergency in the face of the deadly Ebola outbreak that has killed close to 130 Liberians and an entire government ministry at risk because of an employee that died of the deadly disease in Nigeria, there have been reports of dead bodies lying around with no effort by the ministry of health to remove them.

Over the lake that divides the police academy road from the rest of the SKD Boulevard community two objects in the shape of body bags white in color were afloat. Residents and motorists were concerned about the floating object, but all efforts made to contact the health ministry to confirm what the object actually is proved futile as no health response team showed up to remove the object that looked like the body bag in which Ebola victims are buried.

In Harbel, Margibi County it was reported that three persons had died in a house, but the corpses were still in the house three days after. The Gardnersville community was a scene of chaos and confusion as youth blocked the main highway because a corpse had been abandoned for five days and had started to decay.

In the Brewerville suburb outside Monrovia, a mother of three is afraid as news spread of the death of a strange woman who was brought into the community just yards from her house Sunday night. People are dead scared of the disease and many parents are taking their children out of vacation school because of the media campaign that has been waged against the disease by the government over the last two days.

The government had reported that burial teams were facing challenges in burying people who die from the deadly virus as many communities are concerned about people who die from the virus being buried in their areas. Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyeswah told FPA weeks ago that the ministry was concerned that some Liberians were still in denial of the disease.

"We are still having huge challenges with denial; huge challenges with burial practices, that is, people who die from the disease, their family members were finding difficulties to release the bodies to us so that we help them to safely bury," he said.

Continued Nyensuah: "That's the major challenge that we are faced with in dealing with the virus. But if everybody can cooperate with the ministry and do away with denial, discrimination; people die of sudden death that you don't know what killed them, if you can report that to us and release those bodies for us and don't touch those bodies, for us to safely test the bodies, we can eradicate the disease very, very quick. If the public does not cooperate, we will have a major challenge in eradicating the disease."

Now that people are reporting that dead bodies are lying around, it is a huge concern that the ministry is not doing anything to remove these bodies. When FrontPageAfrica contacted Deputy Health Minister Dr. Bernice Dahn on Tuesday, she said she could not talk because she was busy collecting bodies and trying to place sick people on beds.

Loosing Ebola Fight

It seems at the high level the government is losing its wits on how to deal with the deadly virus that has claimed 129 lives including that of a government official. Sources say it is obvious that the Government is playing catch-up with measures to curb the deadly virus in a meeting held recently.

At the second meeting of the national task force set up by President Sirleaf in which she was present, the government did not seem to have a set plan and there was a lot of talking about decisions.

At the meeting attended by many dignitaries including the US ambassador Deborah Malac, the head of the United Nations in Liberia Karen Langren, ministers and other prominent members of society, it was clear that the only reason the president is acting now is because foreigners are dying from the deadly virus.

According to sources, Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Bernice Dahn at the meeting said the Ebola treatment center in ELWA hospital in Monrovia is overcrowded as there are 25 Ebola patients at the center, which is created for 18 persons and it included the two American doctors. The center is the only Ebola treatment facility in the center in Monrovia and the community is resisting the expansion of the unit.

Dr. Dahn said the Health Ministry called the Defense Ministry asking for support, but they did not come. Local staff of the ministry is afraid because the two expats got sick, they may get the virus. For that reason, some did not come to work on Tuesday. She told the meeting that the government needs to recruit staff to train in order to send back to JFK hospital.

She said in Lofa County, the staff from the Foya Ebola Treatment center was attacked and their vehicle destroyed by community members when they went to pick up an Ebola patient adding that this has led expat staff to feeling unsecured. Dr. Dahn also said the Samaritans Purse has pulled out of the Foya site and that in Montserrado County, "the work is becoming overwhelming." Bomi County is said to also be experiencing a serious outbreak.

From Dr. Dahn's explanation the President looked solemn and said: "From what I gather, this whole thing is on an uprise...that's what's scary." Sources indicated that President Sirleaf mentioned temperature checks and others at the borders and the person next to someone remarked: "that should have been done months ago."

The deputy health minister is also said to have informed the meeting that more facilities are needed and that health workers who have gotten the disease are getting it in hospitals, not the treatment centers.

Turning patients away

Kendall Kauffeldt of Samaritan's who's been in Liberia for 10 years and considers it home, said after the second wave of Ebola hit them, they quickly realized there are limited resources to adequately contain this disease. He said, though they have been trained by MSF to handle Ebola it's a "heavy load on their shoulders and at this point" and this crisis is "beyond a disaster in my opinion." and that we are still "dealing with the tip of the iceburg at this point." He said there needs to be a strong international plea for help as their centers in Foya and Monrovia are both full.

Kauffeldt disclosed that ELWA which was made for 18 now has 25 and they are now turning patients away today because there's no room in the center. He said in Foya they receive daily threats and expats have been held hostage, and their vehicles destroyed. Insecurity makes it almost impossible, as does a lack of resources and international support, and not enough trained staff to help tackle the disease at the treatment centers.

"We can no longer safely operate," the centers, and at this point they are putting their staff at great risk," he said in the meeting. He said some healthcare workers are not showing up to work because they are scared, adding, "our involvement is costing our lives."

He said they can no longer participate in the Case Management Centers (CMC's) and said: "we truly wish we could." Medecins Sans Frontiers Country Director Lindis Hurum said that MSF would not leave Liberia adding that she told the government 5 weeks ago that Liberia needed immediate attention. "We are not without limits."

She said only Samaritans Purse helped when they asked the international community for help. Hurum said MSF does not have enough doctors, nurses or sanitation specialists. "Without that it is unsafe to run a treatment center," she said.

"It's almost unthinkable that we can say we can't do anything in Liberia... I don't know how we can help you...this is beyond MSF, it's an international issue. We can't treat them, in a few weeks "those 50 could be 300."

Airlines Suspend Flights

Three main regional flights, Arik, Asky and Air Gambia have suspended flights to the tri-nations affected by what is known as the deadliest outbreak ever. Arik on Monday suspended all flight operations to Liberia and Sierra Leone following the widespread of Ebola diseases in the countries. The airline company also advised that all inbound flights into Nigeria from any of the Ebola affected countries be immediately suspended by the Federal Government.

Arik Air General Manager, Public Relations, Mr. Ola Adebanji said "As a result of the first Ebola virus death officially confirmed in Lagos, and involving a Liberian national who flew on a foreign (non-Nigerian) based airline from Monrovia via Lome (Togo) into the city last week, Arik Air will be suspending operations into Monrovia (Liberia) and Freetown (Sierra Leone) effective July 28, 2014."

"The suspension will be in force until further notice. This decision is a precautionary measure aimed at safeguarding the precious lives of Nigerians. Arik Air is taking this important measure as a concerned corporate citizen bearing interest of Nigerians at heart".

Asky said it has stopped flying to Liberia and Sierra Leone amid growing concern about the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. The airline said it took the decision to keep "its passengers and staff safe during this unsettling time". Gambian authorities have ordered four airline companies operating in The Gambia, "not to pick up passengers in Freetown, Monrovia and Conakry as inbound passengers to Banjul."

In a letter dated 10th April 2014 conveying the ban, "with immediate effect and until further notice", was sent from the ministry of Transport in Banjul to the country manager Brussels Airline, country manager Arik Airlines, managing director Gambia Bird, the country manager Royal Air Maroc. It was copied to the director-general Gambia civil aviation authority.

"Gambia Bird had planned to launch two flights per week from Bissau and Dakar to Conakry, operating on Tuesdays and Thursdays and utilising Airbus A319 aircraft. The airline, which was founded in 2012, now operates scheduled services throughout West Africa, as well as from Banjul to London and Barcelona, and from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to London", the statement noted.

High profile deaths

Over the last three days the Ebola virus has claimed the lives of high profile personalities in government including the lead medical doctor at the country's largest referral hospital the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in person of Dr. Samuel Brisbane.

Dr. Brisbane selected to treat himself at home in a bid not to infect other health workers and spread the disease. Nigeria announced on Friday that a Liberian man who traveled to that country and was placed in isolation in suspicion of the disease died and it turned out to be that the dead man was a government official.

Patrick Sawyer, 40, was Coordinator of the ECOWAS National Unit at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning; he died in Nigeria last Friday after contracting the disease. Sawyer is said to have contracted the virus from his sister who died some weeks ago at the St. Joseph Catholic Hospital. His death drew criticisms from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf when she delivered a statement during the celebrations of Liberia's 167th Independence Day Celebration.

"In another event, one of our compatriots met his untimely death and put to risk others across borders because of indiscipline and disrespect for the advice which had been given by health workers," said President Sirleaf on Saturday. The ministry of finance announced Monday that all senior officials coming in direct or indirect contact with Mr. Sawyer have been placed on the prescribed 21 days observatory surveillance period starting July 20th, the day Mr. Sawyer departed the country for Nigeria.

"All concerned senior officials have been requested to telecommute up until when certified by the Ministry of Health to return to active duty," stated the ministry in a release.

"Further to this measure, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amara Konneh has requested the Ministry of Health to immediately quarantine and properly sanitize both the former Ministry of Finance and the former Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs buildings including the newly constructed National Authorizing Office of the European Union."

Government officials are panicking

Liberian government officials are panicking after the death of Sawyer and the measures taken by the ministry of Finance to lockdown the ministry in an effort to counter imminent danger the presence of the late Sawyer may have caused during his last days there. General Services Agency Director-General Mary Broh announced the closure of the General Services Agency. She told Hott FM on Monday that she took the decision to enable her staffers remain home until the outbreak of the virus subsides. A visit at the GSA noticed a depleted entity with only security officers assigned at the main entrance.

Also at the National Oil Company of Liberia, it was reported that entity also temporarily shut down, but Cyrus Badio, Vice President for Public Relations could not be reached for comment as his phone rang endlessly. At nearly all government ministries and agencies, buckets are situated in front of entrances and visitors are compelled by security guards to wash their hands before entry.

American Patients

At the ELWA Hospital, the humanitarian group Samaritan's Purse is treating one of its doctors, Dr. Kent Brantly who tested positive for the virus. Dr. Brantly and his organization was in the frontline giving care to Liberians affected by the deadly disease when he contracted it. Another American, Missionary Nancy Writebol, from Charlotte, North Carolina, is also sick and is at the ELWA as Liberia struggles against the worst outbreak in history.

Writebol had moved to Liberia with her husband. She worked as a hygienist, spraying protective suits worn by health care workers treating Ebola patients in Monrovia, the Charlotte Observer reported. Writebol and her husband David are not medical personnel, but rather Christian missionaries with 15 years experience serving disease and poverty-stricken third world nations.

Partial border closure

On Sunday the Liberian government announced a series of measures meant to tackle the outbreak that has resulted in the death of 127 Liberians. The President ordered that all borders of Liberia would be closed with the exception of the major entry points, including the Roberts International Airport, James Spriggs Payne Airport, Foya Crossing, Bo Waterside Crossing, Ganta Crossing.

"At these entry points, preventive and testing centers will be established, and stringent preventive measures to be announced will be scrupulously adhered to," says President Johnson Sirleaf.

"A new travel policy by the Liberia Airport Authority covering inspection and testing of all outgoing and incoming passengers will be strictly observed; restrictions on public gatherings such as solidarity marches, demonstrations, promotional advertisement are to be restricted; Hotels, restaurants, entertainment centers and video clubs are to play five-minute film on Ebola awareness and prevention."

The President stated that Government vehicles will be commandeered, as appropriate, to provide needed logistics support to the health delivery system and all Government facilities and public places are to install and provide public access for washing of hands and other sanitization services. Standing Orders have also been given to the Security Forces, including the Armed Forces of Liberia, to give support to the Technical Team and the Task Force in enforcing these regulations according to the President.

Sporting activities suspended

The Liberia Football Association has also joined the fight against the deadly disease by suspending all football activities in the country. Musa Bility, president of the LFA in a statement said he made the decision because football matches are contact sports and Ebola is spread through body contacts with an infected person.

He says Schools, Communities, as well as, organized leagues: 4th-1st division, LONA and ISSA football authorities are to observe the measures pending full control of the outbreak, according to a release from the LFA. Sierra Leone has reported the death of its lead doctor Sheik Umar Khan who has been battling the deadly virus for days now.

US Embassy meets Citizens

The United States Embassy in Monrovia held a meeting with US citizens on Tuesday and told them that the disease has not reached the kind of critical level that would require an evacuation. US citizens who attended the meeting confided in FPA after the gathering stating that they were angry because of the way the Embassy is handling their concerns on the disease and a possible exit strategy.

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Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are in stable but grave condition. Dr. Brantly took a slight turn for the worse… Read more »

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