11 May 2018

Liberia: Averting the Lassa Fever Scare - Multifaceted Action Urgently Required

Photo: This Day
Lassa fever (file photo).

In early March this year the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) reported the outbreak of Lassa fever in Montserrado and Nimba counties, claiming three lives. Immediately following this scary announcement, the Daily Observer, in an Editorial, called on the Liberian government to treat the resurgence of this deadly disease with urgency, in order to forestall its spread.

The Editorial further disclosed that a total of 134 contacts had been identified in Montserrado County (105), Margibi, 25 and Nimba (4), including 37 health workers. The Editorial noted that since January 1 this year, a total of 28 suspected cases of Lassa fever have been reported across the country, including 12 deaths in Montserrado, Bong and Nimba counties.

Now two more deaths from Lassa fever have been reported this week--both in Margibi County--from a highly authoritative source, the county's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Myer Chea Pajibo. The Liberia News Agency (LNA) reported that Dr. Pajibo made the announcement this Tuesday at a news conference at the C.H. Rennie Memorial Hospital in Kakata, the Margibi capital.

The two confirmed cases, he said, had been identified on May 4 and 7, 2018 at the C.H. Rennie Hospital. But he declined to name the victims or their specific communities, though Dr. Pajibo did indicate that both victims came from Kakata, the county capital, and from Gibi, a mountainous region of the county. The Chief Medical Officer made another equally troubling revelation.

The male victim and his wife had traveled to Toma in Bong County to the funeral of their grandchild "who had suddenly died from a fever of unknown origin." Could the fever that killed their grandchild have also been Lassa fever? Too bad an autopsy on the child did not take place before burial, though it may not be too late.

But surely this should lead Bong County authorities, beginning with their Chief Medical Officer and Phebe and C.B. Dunbar Hospitals to launch an immediate investigation into the nature of the fever that caused this child's death, to authenticate whether or not it was Lassa fever, and also to test other children in the area to determine whether any of them may be afflicted with that or any other strange "fever".

On a broader perspective, we are again calling on the Liberian government, most especially the Ministry of Health and the NPHIL to institute a national ALERT initiative, to warn the public about the danger of Lassa fever and ALL that people can and must do vigorously to suppress the further spread of this virus. Part of the campaign should be to let the public know exactly where the disease comes from.

Lassa fever is a viral hemorrhagic illness caused by a virus that is transmitted through contact with the urine or feces of infected rodents (rats) and through direct contact with body fluids of infected individuals. Hemorrhagic means a profuse discharge of blood vessel; bleeding or the abnormal flow of blood. And where do rats, roaches, mosquitos and other such dangerous creatures come from?

They come from unattended garbage--huge dumpsites, mountains of which are found in Paynesville, especially the commercial Red Light district, stagnant water found in such places as the clogged drainages in Soniwehn in central Monrovia and elsewhere.

We must here highly commend the new Mayor of Paynesville City, Madam Pam Belcher-Taylor, who shortly after taking office has already begun cleaning up the garbage from the city's main thoroughfare, Tubman Boulevard, especially the filthy stockpiles found near Matilda Parker's place of birth.

We pray that Mayor Belcher-Taylor will go further and clean up the marketplaces where our market women, with their babies and other children must sell in filth; and also the piles of garbage leading to the Gobachop market and the long stretches of garbage behind the Police Station on Somalia Drive. We make the same plea to the Mayor of Monrovia, Jefferson Koijee, to clean up the nation's capital--Soniwehn, Center Street, including the Palm Grove Cemetery, Waterside and the whole Bushrod Island vicinity.

We make the same appeal to all of Liberia's other mayors, especially those where the Lassa fever virus has been taking its deadly toll--in Kakata and other areas of Margibi County, Gbarnga and other parts of Bong County, Ganta, Sanniquellie and other parts of Nimba County.

The Heath authorities, especially Minister Wilhelmina Jallah, should ever remember the urgent plea we made in a recent Editorial, to reactivate the Ministry's Sanitation Division, so that they may undertake a vigorous campaign to ensure a clean Monrovia and all other cities around the country.

The Health Minister and all government officials have definitely heard of the ancient dictum--"Cleanliness is next to godliness." All of our doctors, nurses and paramedics and most people in Liberia have also heard that "Prevention is better than cure."

A vigorous sanitation campaign is a most critical part of PREVENTION!

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