30 July 2014

Liberia: Pandemonium Looms

Monrovia is rapidly becoming restless in the wake of the Ebola epidemic here that has claimed the lives of nearly 200 persons, including doctors, nurses, and a government official. The city is fast becoming tense, characterized by uncertainty as to who might be the next victim or has come in contact with the virus that is transmitted thru human fluids such as sweet, saliva, feces, vomit or dead persons, and eating of bats and primates.

Since the weekend, the authorities here have intensified coordination among various governmental sectors in strengthening response to what President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has described as a national health crisis. Among measures being taken by the government to contain the spread of the virus, particularly in the capital include sending home employees or civil servants, which amount to partial shutdown of ministries and agencies.

Ministries and agencies already affected are Finance and Development Planning, Education, General Services Agency and others. Authorities at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism are said to be similarly considering plan to maintain a skeleton staff for now. General Services Agency director general, Madam Mary Broh, had already sent her employees for one month compulsory leave to enable administration sanitize the entire GSA compound, including offices and toilets.

The latest actions followed the death of a senior Liberian doctor, Samuel Brisbane in Monrovia over the weekend and an official of the Ministry of Finance, Patrick Sawyer, in Lagos, Nigeria where he had gone to attend an ECOWAS conference. The Liberian cabinet is gradually being run on an emergency basis with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf holding meetings with her officials as chair of a national taskforce constituted Sunday to coordinate response with the country's national health team.

In a statement released Sunday, President Sirleaf announced the closure of all borders except major entry points, including the Roberts International Airport in Margibi County, James Spriggs Payne Airport in Monrovia, Foya Crossing in Lofa County, Bo Waterside Crossing in Grand Cape Mount, and the Ganta Crossing in Nimba County. Liberia shares borders with neighboring Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.

President Sirleaf said at these entry points, preventive and testing centers will be established, and stringent preventive measures to be announced will be scrupulously adhered to, including a new travel policy by the Liberia Airport Authority covering inspection and testing of all outgoing and incoming passengers; restrictions on public gatherings such as solidarity marches, demonstrations, promotional advertisements; and hotels, restaurants, entertainment centers and video clubs are to play five-minute film on Ebola awareness and prevention.

Additional measures to be imposed the President said are: Government vehicles will be commandeered, as appropriate, to provide needed logistics support to the health delivery system; all Government facilities and public places are to install and provide public access for washing of hands and other sanitization services; and media sensitization programs to be formulated by the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, among others.

"The Task Force appeals to the public to cooperate by refraining from harming or rejecting health workers and citizens' representatives who are only trying to save lives and protect citizens", she said.

The Liberian leader stressed that the Ebola virus is a national health problem that attacks the way of life of the Liberian people with serious economic and social consequences, adding, "As such, we are compelled to bring the totality of our national resolve to fight this scourge."

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