FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

25 August 2014

Liberia: ANC - West Point Teaches There's Need for Local Community Leaders Role

Monrovia — The Alternative National Congress (ANC) of Liberia has called for a more robust community-based Ebola prevention and treatment campaign.

In a statement released Saturday, August 23, the ANC noted that the recent experience in West Point, where residents clashed with security forces over the imposition of an Ebola related quarantine, should teach us that the best way to reach local communities with Ebola treatment and prevention messages is not through distant government bureaucrats and officials, but through local community leaders, including religious and traditional leaders and healers.

The party noted that these are leaders who enjoy the confidence and respect of their respective communities and can effectively reach their people using language, customs and practices they can understand.

The ANC added that West Point also teaches us that the Ebola crisis is not a law and order crisis that can be solved by easy resort to the police powers of the state--police powers whose use often create irreparable adversarial relations between the government and its people. Instead, the ANC said what we face is a health crisis that, given its nature, can only be solved by productively engaging local communities, providing them adequate care, and speaking to them through leaders they trust and understand.

According to the ANC, because of their knowledge of their communities, local leaders are best positioned to help health authorities identify community members infected with the Ebola virus so they can receive early treatment. Community leaders, the ANC noted, are also critical to helping authorities identify people who may have come into contact with Ebola victims, so that they too can be monitored and treated, if necessary and thus prevent spread of the disease.

The ANC also welcomed the heavy international presence in the fight against Ebola and called on the government to give organizations such as the WHO, Medicines Sans Frontiers, and Samaritan Purse wide berth as they help us take on the disease. In this connection, the ANC noted that the first duty of a sovereign is to protect its citizens and subjects. Accordingly, the party stressed that ceding broad Ebola fighting authority to international organizations who are working to protect Liberians from the disease is a smart and proper exercise, not derogation, of sovereign power.

Finally, the ANC noted that although Ebola has wreaked havoc on Liberia, it has also struck a raw nerve of patriotism among Liberians. The party pointed us that despite their political and other differences, Liberians of every stripe in every corner of the globe are united in a common effort to defeat this killer. The ANC said it is for this reason that, as difficult as the Ebola crisis is, it believes Liberians will defeat the disease just as they have triumphed over the many other existential threats they have faced from their very beginning as a nation.

Full text of the ANC Statement

ANC Statement On Ebola

Ebola has wreaked havoc on Liberia but it has also struck a raw nerve of patriotism among Liberians. Despite their political and other differences, Liberians of every stripe in every corner of the globe are united in a common effort to defeat this killer. From the United States to Europe and Africa, they are pouring their collective energy into organizing countless Ebola awareness and fund raising campaigns. It is for this reason that, as difficult as the Ebola crisis is, we at the ANC believe Liberians possess the national resolve to defeat this disease just as we have triumphed over the many other existential threats we have faced from our very beginning as a nation.

As much as we are convinced of our national resolved to defeat Ebola, it is proper to take stock of where we are in this fight and make some broad recommendations going forward to ensure ultimate victory. As we take stock, we cannot escape the conclusion that our national situation is dire. Figures published by the WHO show an increasing number of new Ebola cases. In fact, according to the WHO, Liberia is now the epicenter of the fight against Ebola in West Africa.

Welcome and Cede Authority to International Organizations

Given the scale and scope of the problem we face, the ANC welcomes the heavy international involvement in Liberia's fight against Ebola. Already, with the help of our international partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), we have begun to take key steps critical to triumphing over Ebola. A WHO hired doctor with crucial prior Ebola experience is now leading the charge against the disease in Liberia. Other doctors and medical personnel sponsored by groups like Samaritan Purse, Operation Blessing and Médecins Sans Frontières are also active in the frontlines of our Ebola struggle.

With the help of the WHO, we are also building more Ebola treatment centers. Building these centers is a good step for two important reasons. First, timely and adequate treatment and supportive care significantly increase survival chances for Ebola victims. Second, treatment centers provide space to keep Ebola victims away from the larger community and thus prevent the spread of the disease.

We must therefore continue our collaboration with the WHO and other organizations. More important, we must give them a wide berth to do what they must do to help us successfully fight Ebola. In this connection, let us remember that the first duty of a sovereign is to protect its citizens and subjects. It follows, therefore, that ceding authority to international organizations with the requisite skills and resources to protect Liberians from Ebola is a smart and proper exercise, not derogation, of sovereign power.

Institute a Robust Bottom-Up Community-Based Prevention Campaign

As much as building care centers is an important prong in the fight against Ebola, success against this killer ultimately requires heavy emphasis on prevention-- preventing new cases so that eventually there is no need for treatment centers and supportive care.

At the moment, our national prevention campaign needs to be scaled up and designed to reach our local communities. As the WHO has explained, an effective Ebola prevention and control campaign requires "large scale and sustained efforts to fully engage" local communities. These efforts must consider the needs and concerns of the communities and involve a bottom up approach. That is, we must reach communities not through distant bureaucrats and government officials, but through local opinion leaders, such as religious and traditional leaders as well as healers, and through focus groups throughout Liberia but primarily in the communities most affected.

These are local opinion leaders who understandably enjoy the respect and confidence of their communities. They are thus best positioned to get their communities vested in fighting the disease. They can best educate community members in language, customs, and practices they understand about how the disease can be prevented, managed and treated. They are most capable of helping national health authorities identify new cases so that Ebola victims can be provided timely care. They are similarly well situated to identify traceable contacts--community members who may have come in contact with people infected with the disease so that they too can be monitored and treated, if necessary. Through local leaders, national authorities can reach communities with the essential truth that contracting Ebola is not necessarily a death sentence, particularly if victims receive early supportive care.

The West Point experience amply demonstrates that we have not productively engaged local populations in a bottom up approach. Nothing better underscores the gulf between the people and the government on Ebola matters than the fact that security forces had to rescue a government official from the people of West Point. This official was ostensibly responsible for Ebola outreach efforts in that community. We must learn from this experience and begin to harness the influence, talents and resources of local leaders in community-led efforts that adequately teach and sensitize people about Ebola prevention and care.

West Point also teaches us that what we face is not a law and order crisis that can be solved by easy resort to the police powers of the state--police powers whose use often create irreparable adversarial relations between the government and its people. Instead, we face a health crisis that, given its nature, can only be solved by productively engaging local communities, providing them adequate care, and speaking to them through leaders they trust and understand.

Looking Ahead

The Ebola crisis has exposed serious flaws and deficiencies in our national health care system. Accordingly, while we should be focused on bringing Ebola under immediate control, it is not too early to begin looking ahead to what we must do to make our health care system capable of effectively responding to future health emergencies.

In this regard, there are some simple things we can begin doing now to improve our hospitals and health centers and make them the clean and hygienic places they should be for both the sick and the medical professionals who care for them. There is, for example, no reason why we cannot provide our doctors, nurses and other health care workers with appropriate gear including life preserving PPE's to protect them from the Ebola virus and other diseases they treat. There is also no reason why many of our hospitals lack electricity and running water, rendering them breeding grounds for the very diseases they are meant to prevent and treat. True, our national water and power systems were destroyed by the war. But privately owned homes, hotels and other businesses have managed to provide their residents with running water and electricity using generators and wells with pumping systems. If they can do so, then we as a nation should be able to ensure our hospitals have power and running water and are clean and hygienic places to bring the sick.

There is also no reason why we should have hospital beds crowded with more than one patient. We are abundantly blessed with the raw materials needed to make beds. We have first rate carpenters who are often under-employed. We should be able to make beds for our hospitals, period. Similarly, there are no rational explanations for the lack of clean beddings in our hospitals when we have many talented tailors who can make and supply our health care centers with locally made beddings. If we can do these small things well, we can build on our successes and gain the confidence and experiences necessary to do the more complicated things required to create a truly functional modern health care system.

More broadly, it is also not too early to begin thinking and strategizing about how we recover from the wet blanket Ebola has thrown over our economy generally and those communities hardest hit by the disease in particular. When the fight against Ebola is over, we cannot leave West Point as it has always been--a congested, unsanitary concentration of poverty. We must now have on the drawing board bold and creative economic and community development programs that inject new life and vitality into that community and other similarly affected communities by, among other things, helping residents recover revenue and income lost as a result of the Ebola crisis.

Simply put, our work is cut out for us; and if we think hard and plan right, we certainly are up to the task. The African Union (AU) Commission decided to deploy a joint military medical personnel and civilian humanitarian mission to help with the Ebola virus outbreak in parts of West Africa.

According to the AU's statement on Friday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Peace and Security Council mandated the action to tackle the situation in the affected West African nations, such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria. The mission will comprise medical doctors, nurses and other medical and paramedical personnel, and will run for six months with monthly rotation of volunteers.

"The operation will cost more than 25 million dollars and the U.S. government and other partners have pledged to support the AU with a substantial part of this amount. "The operation aims at filling the existing gap in international efforts and will work with WHO, OCHA, US CDC, EU CDC and others agencies already on the ground," it said. ccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1,350 people have died from the Ebola virus in outbreaks reported in the four countries.

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