FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

25 August 2014

Liberia: Liberty Party - Statement On Ebola Crisis and Government's Response

Since the outbreak of the Ebola virus in March, the Liberty Party has worked tirelessly with Liberians at home and abroad to bring the crisis to an early end. We have made and continue to make suggestions and recommendations to the Government of Liberia, with international partners, and with Liberians at home and abroad to bring the crisis to an end as soon as possible. We have made cash and other contributions totaling more than US$15,000 to various charities and community groups thus far. And we have also been able to give large amounts of desperately needed in-kind supplies. Liberty Party is committed to doing even more for the people of Liberia. Our entire organization, including political campaign teams, the national leadership, and our supporters abroad have re-directed their energies, time, and resources to help Liberia overcome this challenge.

Recognizing that this might be some of the most desperate times in our national history, we have put forward numerous suggestions on how to organize at the national level, at the county level, and in our local communities. While it is the responsibility of the Government of Liberia to organize and lead the response, the fact that the Ebola outbreak continues to spread and has become the worst case of the disease in history, is a clear indication that the government's response so far has not been effective. And if the government's current course of action is not quickly assessed and modified, based on objective data, the government may actually prolong this crisis and cause needless deaths.

The National Ebola Task Force has no presence outside Monrovia; leaders and members of the "Community Outreach Force" are yet to be announced, if already selected. The use of dialogue and community engagement could have averted the West Point incident,during which Shaki Kamara was shot and eventually died. The use of force against a generation that have yet to recover from the trauma of war is dangerous; it has the potential to spark repressed memories of individuals, most of whom have not been rehabilitated. Furthermore, it serves as a distraction from the unified effort needed to confront Ebola.

Ignorance about the virus still persists, the limited information about the national effort to contain and eradicate the Ebola virus is provided to the public through multiple, uncoordinated sources, or through rumors; bodies of Ebola victims are still left uncollected for days, the public is still frustrated with their inability to reach the Call Center or the Call Center's very slow response to their calls; the coordination of logistics is appalling, victims of the disease at treatment centers are not receiving nutrition, causing families to keep the sick at home, increasing the rate of exposure and the likelihood of death. Then there is the unavailability of sufficient protective gear for health care workers notwithstanding the government's announcement that it has made available $5.0M for the Ebola fight, etc.. This is not the time to impress the international community with the illusion that we got this under control.

In the face of this, on Tuesday, August 19th the President declared a State of Emergency. Liberty Party's understanding of the need for this action was to provide the government with the wherewithal from public resources to deal with the crisis; and to improve the health care system by taking, for example, the following actions:

Authorize special salary and benefit payments, as added incentive for Frontline health workers and burial teams, such as special allowances above and beyond normal levels of per diem and pay/benefits that may be authorized under the Civil Service or the Public Financial Management laws. Recruit, and train as necessary, additional medical workers, and contract them without regard to the usual civil service recruitment procedures for the duration of the emergency; Undertake the necessary budgetary transfers to meet payment obligations to health care workers.

Undertake extraordinary measures to alleviate shortages of essential commodities. Hoarders of goods, especially medical supplies, and profiteers must be monitored and severely punished. Provide the necessary equipment, supplies and protective gear to ensure that every hospital in the country is reopened.

But we are alarmed by the situation unfolding across the country, especially now in West Point and Dolo's Town. Rather than deploying the police and AFL in support of Frontline medical and community workers, and community leaders, the government has done the opposite. We now see disturbing scenes from videos and photographs of the excessive use of force by the AFL to intimidate and brutalize citizens. Rather than treating our people as responsible citizens and working with them to mount effective community responses, whole communities are being treated as disease-ridden to be shunned. Not only are these actions stigmatizing victims of the disease, they are humiliating and denigrating communities that are confused, starving and afraid.

Liberty Party condemns and strongly objects to any use of lethal force against the People of Liberia as a result of this crisis; and call on President Sirleaf to ensure that: An independent investigation is instituted into circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Shaki Kamara in West Point; even in these difficult circumstances the rights of the People of Liberia are respected; the AFL is deployed only as was intended in our democratic form of government to support civilian authorities and defend the country against external threats; the government explains to the public how the curfew is effective in fighting the spread of Ebola; restrictions on freedom of movement are enforced as a last resort and only in very limited areas; and,

"Contact tracing" as a means of identifying and containing those who may have been exposed to the virus, is preferred over quarantining entire communities, especially since the government has been unable to provide basic necessitates, including food and medical supplies, for those currently quarantined. The considered opinion of the medical community is that Ebola is a public health problem and therefore combating it requires primarily a public health solution. This, in our opinion, means that the national effort must have prevention as its focus. And we believe that the key to prevention is the dissemination of accurate and timely information necessary to effect the appropriate behavior changes. But the information would need to be disseminated through individuals and groups that the communities trust - their own sons and daughters. Certainly, the government's current efforts are not effecting behavior changes necessary to break the circle of infections quickly enough. The evidence still indicates that the whole national effort is not properly coordinated and that population does not trust the government's messengers who are conveying the Ebola message; hence, the unprecedented level of disbelief about Ebola and its fatal consequences.

That is why we believe the Government will achieve the greatest good for the country and end the needless Ebola deaths if she would delegate the day-to-day management of the Ebola Task Force (from herself) to an experienced domestic or International incident/emergency response manager, giving that individual the latitude and resource to carry out the needed task. How the Government responds will be the key determinant of whether we are in for a short or long haul in ending this crisis. We call on the government to do all it can to make this period shorter, including quickly revamping the National Ebola Task Force, placing the management of this crisis into the hands of competent, capable, apolitical professionals; working closely with our international partners to deal with the crisis, and moving quickly to end the state of emergency.

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