Liberia: 'Liberians Deserve Concrete, Detailed Indicators for Lockdown'

Former Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan has challenged the government and health authority leading the fight against the Coronavirus to provide "Clear, measurable, and easy-to-understand" indicators on progress made in the fight if there were any justifiable reasons to continue the lockdown.

Minister Ngafuan, who also served as Minister of Finance during the first term of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, recalled that when the lockdown that is grossly affecting businesses and livelihood of Liberians was extended on May 8, President George Weah told the public he got advice from health authorities that that there were some unresolved crisis, and that the measures needed to remain in place still was pertinent.

Also when the lockdown was first extended on April 24, the former Minister said "The President also premised his decision on the advice of health authorities pointing to unresolved crisis."

However, Minister Ngafuan's opinion seems to suggest that he has not gotten the clearer understanding of what the referenced "Unresolved crisis" is, and is therefore calling on the health authority and the government to define the unresolved crisis for the public understanding.

"Relying more on the advice of health authorities during a health crisis is the prudent thing to do. However, the Liberian people deserve more concrete and detailed indicators to justify the extension of a lockdown than nebulous unresolved crisis," said Minister Ngafuan.

Continuing further, former Minister Ngafuan said: "As far as we know, the Coronavirus crisis will remain unresolved for the next year or so until the global community develops a solution through the development of an efficacious vaccine or drug."

He said with this predicament, the government may not want to continue to press the pause button on the economy and the livelihood of its people for months, only on account of the "Unresolved crisis."

While demanding information about the status of the status of the COVID-19 fight, the former Foreign Minister, however, could not withhold his acknowledgement of the work of the Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, who he says was his classmate at the University of Liberia; Dr. Francis Kateh, who he described as a man with professional medical credentials; Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah; John F. Kennedy Medical Center Administrator Jerry Brown, and the rest of the national health team.

"I encourage them to deconstruct the 'unresolved crisis' and tell us more about the epidemiological curve of Coronavirus cases in Liberia, as such a curve will show, even on a rough basis, how the numbers of confirmed Coronavirus cases and deaths are expected to evolve in Liberia over time, under various scenarios, which could include a no lockdown, a more relaxed lockdown, a partial lockdown that exists now, and a total lockdown hinted by government officials," he added.

According to Ngafuan, knowing beforehand precisely what the execution of any one of the scenarios is expected to yield in terms of confirmed cases and deaths will give the necessary metrics to gauge whether or not we are making progress in our fight.

Minister Ngafuan also observes that linking food distribution to total lockdown does not imply any cohesiveness. He said tying food distribution to total lockdown may dilute or diminish the good intent associated with the food distribution.

According to him, strategic decision making considers the circumstances, factors, or variables of the present and their potential impacts on the future as more relevant in informing a proper course of action than what is being said about two months ago concerning lockdown and food distribution.

"The government can still distribute food without necessarily upgrading to a total lockdown. After all, the harsh realities of living under a lockdown, albeit partial, for more than a month can justify the distribution of food," he said.

He added further that delinking food distribution from total lockdown comes with the added benefit of averting the likelihood of confusion and push-back during a complete or total lockdown by some disgruntled persons denied food rations on account of not being considered 'vulnerable.' Denying a segment of the population food even during the partial lockdown may be problematic; but denying them food and at the same time subjecting them to harsh realities of a total lockdown may be seriously problematic."

He also challenged the government to direct the scarce resources it has to activities and expenditure directly linked to the Coronavirus fight and the health sector in general. "To flatten the curve or raise the line, we need to improve health care capacity and our mitigation efforts by spending more money on the recruitment and incentivization of more contact tracers, case investigators, community health volunteers, and community engagement volunteers."

Former Minister Ngafuan also noted that while the virus was surfacing and before surfacing, there were reports about the lack of essential medical supplies and gasoline or fuel for many health centers in the country. In this direction, he cautioned the government to think twice whether it is at this time necessary to dedicate US$35 million on food aid program when there is public cry that hospitals and clinics lack essential medical supplies to fight the COVID-19.

He, however, clarified that he supports food aid, but observes also that if there were enough of resources to address the basic needs relating to health, he would be at the forefront of advocating for food aid because it will help to fight the virus.

He said investing the US$35 million in the Coronavirus fight to acquire medical supplies and promote testing, contact tracing, isolation, PPEs and the health sector in general will bring a long time sustainable development that food ration that is not sustainable.

He further recommended that the President should consider relaxation of the mandatory stay-at-home period by revising it from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. He said the extra three hours that this relaxation will give the public to attend to their basic food, banking and other needs will enhance social distancing instead of undermine it.

He observes that the current time pushes too much rush at business centers especially the banks and it undermines the social distancing protocol, but when relaxed to 6 p.m., there will be more time to do business and prepare to go home under less stress.

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