Monrovia — When the news of several officials of government who tested positive for COVID-19 began to filter in the public late April, the National Security Agency (NSA) took seize of the matter and took into their custody for questioning some employees of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) and technicians of the National Reference Laboratory.
The NSA's move, many believed at the time, was due to rumors that President George Manneh Weah had contracted the coronavirus, especially when he and other high-ranking officials of his government had been in a security briefing with the then Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency (LDEA) Director, Mr. Marcus Soko, who later died of COVID-19 at the 14 Military Hospital.
Not long after his death, several officials of government including the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Sadiatu Reeves, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe and Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean, amongst others, tested positive for COVID-19 and were admitted at the 14 Military Hospital off the Robertsfield Highway.
Upon the leakage of the said tests results, several phones belonging to lab technicians assigned at the national reference laboratory were confiscated by the NSA for investigation.
Section 12.4 of the Public Health Law prohibits disclosure of medical condition of any person unless to an authorized personnel. It states: "Reports and records required by the provisions of section 12.3 shall not be subject to inspection by persons other than authorized personnel of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, or by the Minister of Justice when such reports and records involve an investigation of an offense, except that the person to whom any such record relates or his legal representative, by signing a written consent may authorize the Minister to open the record to inspection... "
Section 6.2 of the Confidentiality Provision in the NPHIL Act also states:
"All patient related research information or findings, processes, research techniques or plans shall be kept confidential, except as provided herein;
"All information received by the relevant parties herein shall be kept confidential
"Members of the Board of Directors, the Director General, officers, employees and staffs of NPHIL shall treat all information obtained in the course of their employment and or engagement with NPHIL, strictly confidential, not to be disclosed to any third party and shall not use it for any other purpose other than for the purpose of this act.
"NPHIL shall ensure that its officers, employees, and all associates treat partners' information as confidential except as provided under paragraph(a) above, nothing in this section shall be construed as an exception to the provisions and intent of the Public Information Act of 2010, or defeating the information sharing of this act.
"Any breach of the above confidentiality provision shall be punishable in accordance with the Public Health Law and/or the Penal Law of Liberia or their amendatory Acts."
Vice President's Report in the Public
On Wednesday, a memo signed by Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah disclosing the health status of Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor surfaced on Facebook despite it contained medical information which health authorities had argued that must be kept confidential.
It remains unclear who leaked the memo which was intended to facilitate her travel out of the country for advanced treatment in Ghana.
Medical pundits contend that it was unnecessary mentioning the ailment of the bearer in the memo since it was to be handled by non-medical officers.
The memo reads:
To Whom It May Concern:
I am pleased to present my compliments and to inform you that H.E. Jewel Howard-Taylor, has been tested positive for COVID-19 on August 10, 2020 and has been requested to travel out of the country for treatment.
Based on the advice of her doctor, the Incident Management System is granting her permission to travel to seek treatment.
With kind regards, I remain.
Wilhemina S. Jallah, MD, MPH, CHES, FLCP, FWACP
Minister of Health & IMS Chair
Prior to the release of the communication on social media, the Liberia News Agency came under heavy criticisms for reporting a speculative story about the Vice President being tested positive for coronavirus. The Agency later took down the story and expressed regrets.
However, neither the Minister of Health nor the Ministry of Information have condemned the breach of the Vice President's medical confidentiality.
This breach comes at a time when President George Weah has suspended the Director-General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, Dr. Mosoka Fallah for alleged breach of administrative protocol.
It is not clear whether an investigation into who leaked the memo would be launched.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Office Staff of the Vice President, Mr. George Tenessee Nimely, told FrontPageAfrica that the "Vice President is only concerned about her speedy recovery, and safe return home. Therefore, we are calling on all Liberians, at home and abroad as well as friends of Liberia, to join us in prayer for her speedy recovery, and safe return home."
In a related development, FrontPageAfrica gathered that staffers of the Vice President Office have been asked to turn themselves in for coronavirus test.