Liberia: "We Are Prepared for Any Outbreak"

-Tolbert Nyenswah tells UL's medical students, professors

Tolbert G. Nyenswah, director-general of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), says the country is now prepared to respond to any disease outbreak through prevention and testing methods.

Mr. Nyenswah made the remarks on Friday during a one-day engagement with students and professors of the University of Liberia's (UL) A. M. Dogliotti College of Medicine and Health Sciences, named and styled LUX Talk.

Nyenswah said Liberia has built its laboratory capacity to test more infectious diseases, including Lassa fever, a capacity that did not exist prior to the Ebola virus disease outbreak in the country.

According to him, NPHIL has also trained 250 Liberians, including nurses, physician assistants and others in different programs to handle any outbreak. "There is no fear of outbreak currently in the country," he said.

Lassa fever, also known as Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), is a type of viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus and many of those infected by the virus do not develop symptoms.

According to Mr. Nyenswah, the Lassa fever virus is currently being identified in Liberia, particularly Bong, Nimba and Lofa counties respectively, indicating, "there are specific communities that Lassa fever is discovered."

He said NPHIL is not just collecting data, but also investigating it to ensure there are strong preventives measure in place.

Mr. Nyenswah who spoke on the theme: "Liberia's Health Sector Preparedness and Response to the Spread of Infectious Diseases: The Ebola Experience," said Liberia is now lacking curative capacity as compared to prevention and testing.

"We have a team at the lab that is now prepared and testing for Ebola, Lassa fever, cholera, and yellow fever. We added maladaptive testing," Mr. Nyenswah said.

According to him, a person who is purported to have maladaptive may have one or more symptoms of the disorder, but not necessarily all of them.

He said Liberia has secured a machine that can carry out testing of 30 different pathogens, which are microscopic organisms that cause or have the potential to cause disease.

"If someone was wrongly diagnosed and treated with malaria or typhoid, we can now take the sample to the lab and the machine will test for about 30 different pathogens that are floating around in our population," Mr. Nyenswah said.

He said there is a need to focus on primary healthcare delivery, as it is the first place where sick people mainly go to be cured. According to him, people who died from other diseases were even more than those who died from Ebola virus.

According to him, Liberia has made significant progress on Ebola control and prevention in terms of any outbreak, stating, "we have also established national public health institutes across the country."

Again, Mr. Nyenswah said 72 percent of diseases that affect citizens come from animals and there is a need for a look at what animals are carrying.

He said the government of Liberia is only providing 28 percent of the funding for the health sector, while the donors continued to provide 72 percent.

Mr. Nyenswah said it will take time for Liberia to graduate from donor funding, indicating that "we need to work with donors and have to be strong to navigate with the donor community to support Liberia's health sector."

"We have to work with the traditional leaders

Dr. Bernice Dahn, Vice President for Health Sciences at the A. M. Dogliotti Medical College, said plans are currently underway for the university to begin a public health program in September this year.

Dr. Dahn said the administration is looking at reforming the college's curriculum to a seven-year training program and revision of the curriculum of the school of pharmacy, information that was graced by excitement from medical students.

Dr. Dahn said the university intends to focus more clinical oriented pharmacy training, as the public is aware of Liberia's health sector challenges, stating, "it will help to improve the health sector and also help to prepare the students better for the future."

She said the university is contemplating uplifting the post-basic training program for nursing and midwifery at the Tubman National Institute of Medical Arts (TNIMA) to a degree program.

Dr. Dahn: "Authorities have started the discussion with the authorities of the John F. Kennedy Medical Hospital and hope to conclude soon."

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