Liberia: Lockdown to Prevent Spread of COVID-19 Is Not Applicable to Liberia - Says Tolbert Nyenswah

Traders in Monrovia's largest market district of Waterside on the morning the quarantine was lifted off West Point that's nearby.

Monrovia — The former Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah, has challenged health authorities in Liberia to institute similar methods applied by the Incident Management System (IMS) of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf led-government to ensure the eradication of the coronavirus pandemic from the country.

Mr. Nyenswah is presently a Senior Research Associate, Department of International Health at the John Hopkins School of Public Health, based in Baltimore, United States of America.

He is also a member of the International Panel Global Health Security Index based in Washington, USA.

Mr. Nyenswah was the head of the Incident Management System (IMS) which played a pivotal role in ensuring the eradication of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) from Liberia.

The former NPHIL Director disclosed that though the health protocols set aside to defeat COVID-19 around the world are welcoming, bulk of those protocols are not applicable in many African countries, particularly Liberia.

Mr. Nyenwah spoke on Tuesday when he participated on the Truth Breakfast Show (TBS) on Truth 96.1FM in Paynesville, outside Monrovia via telephone from the United States of America.

He maintained that poor sanitary conditions, lack of electricity, high rate of unemployment, among others make the imposition of a lockdown mandate to prevent the spread of the coronavirus inapplicable in Liberia.

He added that Liberia's health system remains backward as compare to countries in the Americas, Asia, and Europe that have already introduced a lockdown to curb COVID-19.

Mr. Nyenswah pointed out that it is impossible for residents of slum communities in Liberia, including West Point and New Kru Town to be contained in their respective homes for couple of weeks without the provision of adequate and basic social services to guarantee their survival and enforce the lockdown exercise.

"What works in the United States, China, South Korea or in Italy could not be applicable to countries in Africa, including Liberia. Our health care system, social interactions, our communities are not the same like you see in the West. Where I live in the United States, we have lockdown here; but you can walk to a supermarket and buy your groceries and bring your food home; and you can stay home for as much as three or four weeks as you want to be home".

"Part of the work I do, unless it is necessary to go to work-that's the only time I had to go. But we do lot of work on the computer; we have zoom meetings, skype meetings-when I was talking to the BBC, I was right in my home. Can you keep someone in West Point to stay home for those numbers of days? It's impossible. The sanitary condition in West Point, New Kru Town and other parts of our country-people don't have electricity-people live on daily food by going to the market to buy food; people are unemployed and they have to do businesses in Red Light, Water Side or Duala before they have food to eat"

Methods to deal with COVID-19

The Incident Management System (IMS) headed by Mr. Nyenswah was hailed for the exemplary role played to eliminate the Ebola virus from the country.

According to him, the Weah-led administration, particularly those heading the various committees setup to eradicate the coronavirus from the country must make use of the similar approaches that were used to defeat the Ebola virus.

Mr. Nyenswah noted that health authorities should be cognizant that COVID-19, which threatens a country's population, can be dealt with through a rigorous structure system, including adequate support, coordination structure, and command and control mechanisms.

"The transmission mood of the disease (coronavirus) is a little bit different. For Ebola, you must have a physical touch with an infected person; their stool, their body parts, urine, or blood before you can contract the disease. With coronavirus-you don't have to physically touch an infected person. It's transmitted by coughs, sneezes

"Somebody may have the disease and does not show any sign or symptoms at all and you could get it from them. For Ebola you have to touch and coronavirus-if the person is close to you 6 or 7ft, you can get the disease. But, to respond to the disease, you have to stand up".

The former NPHIL boss maintained: "All of the elements of the Incident Management System which we led in Liberia between 2014 and 2016 are things you have to do when you want to contain the coronavirus".

He recalled that fatalities erupted during the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia when stringent measures were taken by the Sirleaf's government in two (2) areas, including the township of West Point.

Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) were deployed in the township of West Point to enforce a quarantine operation during the heat of the Ebola pandemic.

Little Shakie Kamara was killed when one of the soldiers fired live bullet to enforce the mandate.

The UP led government received barrage of criticisms both locally and internationally as a result of the situation.

But Mr. Nyenswah urged the Weah-led government to refrain from imposing what he termed as "draconian cohesive measures" to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Liberia, adding that these measures "do not work in African countries".

He said it is quite "unbelievable" for Liberia to still be struggling as a country to combat against COVID-19, leaving an entire system which was setup during the Ebola crisis in limbo.

He maintained that most people initially died from the Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia because, the command and control center was not functional.

Mr. Nyenswah pointed out that the too many response systems setup at the Ministry of Health, NPHIL, as well as the General Services Agency (GSA) would make things more complicated for the fight against the coronavirus.

Mr. Nyenswah further pointed out that the lockdown of the capital, Monrovia will not stop the spread of the coronavirus in its totality.

"Lockdown of Monrovia will not stop the spread of the coronavirus; and it will not stop the spread of the coronavirus in any Africa cities. The United States locked down; Italy and everybody locked down-it may help to some extend to limit the spread, but it will not stop the disease".

What is needed to stop COVID-19 here

Mr. Nyenswah emphasized is a "great command and control coordination system" is needed to stop the spread of the virus in Liberia.

He added that robust testing must also be carried out by health workers.

He further observed that the containment method that was previously setup during the Ebola virus outbreak is not workable now because the virus has already entered and spread into Liberia.

Mr. Nyenswah noted that health care workers would begin to contract the virus because community dwellers that are sick most often seek medical attention at drug stores and mini clinics firstly.

He, however, called for strong political will and support to be accorded those heading various committees or groups established to fight against COVID-19 in Liberia.

"People have to practice some sort of social distancing which is not necessary lockdown. We have to run our testing capacity. Our testing we are doing in Liberia is limited. We have to test as much people the fact that we have communities' transmission taking place right now".

"If we are not careful, we will see similar situation where the healthcare system shutdown. We are already hearing about cases at healthcare centers. No number of lockdown will stop the disease; we are putting people into more poverty; we are creating agitation. The government has to be very careful with these kinds of situations before it goes out of control. When people are hungry in their homes; they can't get food; their civil liberties seized; you are not doing something to help them, it will bring up agitation and rebellion".

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