Liberia: 'Sixteen Ways to Minimize the Effects of a COVID-19 Outbreak On the Liberian Society'

opinion

It is no secret that many countries around the world including Liberia had hoped initially that the year 2020 would be a year of peace, happiness, growth, development, as well as prosperity.

However, these great and splendid wishes now appear to be virtually impossible, because the entire world is suffering from a merciless attack by a new type of coronavirus known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2. This new virus has rapidly developed itself into a global health pandemic and is destroying lives and defying humanity on all fronts. In fact, on March 23, 2020, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of World Health Organization (W.H.O.), told a virtual news conference that COVID-19 (the generic name for the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2) is "accelerating" (W.H.O., 2020). I

n other words, it is spreading more rapidly than expected, with more than 200 countries and territories around the world including Liberia and 2 international conveyances (i.e. the Diamond Princess and the MS Zaandam cruise ships) having confirmed cases of COVID-19 in varying quantities, including fatalities (Worldometers.info, 2020). (Note: As of April 4, 2020, national Health authorities in Liberia revealed that Liberia has totals of 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 6 active cases, 3 recovered cases, 1 death, as well as several high-risk contacts, some of whom are yet to be traced and/or tested - thus an epidemic is highly likely).

Currently, there is NO internationally approved curative antidote for COVID-19 (W.H.O., 2020). Likewise, NO country has proven to be very effective in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, not even the great United States of America (Shear, et al., 2020) nor the self-isolated North Korea that recently alleged it has COVID-19 under "total control" (Chakraborty, 2020).

The adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in hard-hit nations and on the global scale are far-reaching. Moreover, the pandemic is impacting societies across social dimensions (Rasheed, 2020), economic dimensions (Hutt, 2020), political dimensions (Rachman, 2020), and cultural dimensions (FutureLearn, 2020) respectively.

Like other countries, Liberia is also adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given Liberia's poor economic performance (World Bank, 2019) couple with other domestic challenges such as fragile health system (PSI, 2018) and high rate of poverty (Liberia Institute for Statistics & Geo-Information Services-LISGIS, 2018) (Dopoe, 2018), it is inevitable that any outbreak of COVID-19 in the country would exacerbate the current situation. Therefore, more must be done now if the lives of many poor and underprivileged Liberians will be spared - assuming an outbreak occurs.

Whilst scientists and pharmacists around the world are racing to find a cure to the defying 'Pandemic of Our Age', many governments are also taking urgent actions in terms of strengthening healthcare, boosting economies, and providing social welfare stimulus to salvage their countries and populations from being consumed amid the current health crisis. In Liberia, though some actions have been taken by the Government of Liberia (GOL), however, many questions yet linger. For instance, how prepare and resilient is Liberia's healthcare system to adequately handle and contain COVID-19 if there be an outbreak? How can the jobs of many Liberians in the private sector be secured to avoid massive unemployment? What is the GOL's plan for large-, medium- and small-scale private industries and businesses? What is the GOL's strategy to cater to the poor, the vulnerable, and unemployed folks? What are the GOL's strategies for responding to other security-related emergencies, especially, a potential increase in crime rate and illegal immigration? What else could the GOL do to keep people shelter-in-place especially in communities with access to electricity and piped water connections? And many more. Though the GOL's tougher enforcement of social distancing is essential and welcoming, however, the basic survival needs of its citizenry and private sector cannot be ignored totally.

Given the aforementioned, this article, therefore, proffers below Sixteen (16) significant Ways by which the GOL can address some of the pressing basic survival needs of its citizenry and systems while confronting the current COVID-19 pandemic:

Crucial Investments in Public Healthcare Delivery System

The goal is to strengthen Liberia's fragile healthcare delivery system and boost its resilience to combat a possible COVID-19 outbreak and to treat other preventable diseases/illnesses. Specific actions include but not limited to:

Providing adequate Logistical supports that will include:

Diagnostics and/or testing kits for COVID-19;

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare providers such as protective gowns, scrubs, aprons, sterile gloves, protective goggles, face shields, masks, etc.;

Case management equipment such as oxygen concentrators, oxygen delivery systems, and mechanical ventilators;

Medical drugs; and

Hygienic supplies such as chlorine, high test hypochlorite or HTH 70%, alcohol-based hand rub, liquid soap, etc.

Augmenting the current Size and Capacities of the Healthcare Workforce by:

Recruiting a standby healthcare workforce comprising of retired and active medical professionals including practicing nurse aides and senior-level medical students; and

Conducting prompt refresher training in COVID-19 treatment and containment.

Increasing the number of Field Clinics and Holding Centers and improving Ambulance Services through the following means:

Constructing an adequate number of temporary field clinics and holding centers for treatment purposes as well as quarantining high risk suspected COVID-19 cases;

An increased quantity of hospital beds and ensuring all treatment and holding centers are safe and hygienic;

An increased quantity of functional ambulances and ensuring that ambulance service is very effective and robust; and

Ensuring electricity and piped water are stable in all healthcare facilities used.

Adequate Financial/non-financial supports for all frontline healthcare providers through the following means:

Improved incentives/salaries;

Timely and convenient salaries disbursement (preferably mobile services);

Temporary income tax break; and

Recognition of extraordinary sacrifices exhibited during work. And

Demonstrating strong Leadership through the following ways:

Effective and transparent managerial oversight and coordination via a strong Public-Private-Citizens-led approach;

Effective and accurate data collection, robust contact tracing, and effective data management;

Prompt and responsible reportage and adequately disseminating information to the public when appropriate; and

Persistent public awareness on preventive measures of COVID-19 including the need to seek medical care when ill or experiencing symptoms.

Providing essential Incentives and Subsidies and Social Welfare

The goal is to ensure that all who reside and/or operate in Liberia can continue to survive amid any possible COVID-19 epidemic. The specific actions include but not limited to:

Granting temporary tax break to all tax-compliant small and medium scale businesses which are under temporary closure as a result of the GOL's health regulations to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Negotiating with local commercial banks and financial institutions to temporarily postpone all private and business loan repayment schedules; also, lowering the Central Bank of Liberia's reserve requirement ratios to keep commercial banks' liquidity at afloat.

Taking urgent, smart policy actions to minimize potential massive unemployment and/or layoffs in the private sector by:

Granting temporary payroll subsidies for workers retention; and

Granting temporary tax break or tax deferral for workers retention.

Partnering with all relevant foreign governments and suppliers along with major local importers and businesses to ensure an adequate supply of basic food and transport commodities and medical supplies on the Liberian markets; also, preventing hoarding and price gouging.

Timely disbursing public sector's personnel remunerations; also, granting temporary income tax breaks particularly to the active civil service and security sector workforce to compensate for the extra cost/sacrifice they incur daily to continue serving the Liberian people during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Temporarily providing free food items, safe drinking water, hygienic supplies, and medical treatment to the poor and the most vulnerable groups and communities.

Temporarily suspending telecommunication charges on all voice calls, messaging, and internet or data packages.

Temporarily providing free public transport.

Temporarily providing free electricity and piped water for households with active connections; also, promptly addressing all connection-related problems.

Robustly and effectively responding to all security-related and fire-related emergencies. And

Temporarily deploying military personnel of the Armed Forces of Liberia to all porous points of entry along the Liberian borders to curb illegal immigration considering the health risks.

In conclusion, if the aforementioned recommendations are put into immediate, practical actions by the relevant GOL's authorities, they would yield positive outcomes in terms of minimizing the adverse effects on the Liberian society that would result from a potential COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

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