Why COVID-19 is more complicated for countries in our neck-of-the woods than EVD

Dr. James F. Kollie, Jr.

In 2014 when Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were hit by the EVD, it was a blessing that we got the attention of the world. I remember when consultants and media experts would whisper to us that what we needed was the “CNN effect” and then the world would pay attention. It seems that we garnered more than the “CNN effect” and the world came to our rescue.

It is also apparent that the leader of the “free world” at that time had a different worldview and therefore decided that he would be proactive and engaged in curbing the epidemic in the West African region because failure to do that could potentially see the EVD on his shores. Many world leaders then shared similar perspectives and therefore converged on West Africa and fought the ‘virus’ there. When we consider what is obtaining today and the opportunities that were missed to have tackled the COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, the 2014 decision by the leader of the free world looks like the best gift of God to mankind.

Given today’s situation, it seems that countries in our neck-of-the-woods will not be able to benefit from the “CNN effect” and may not see the world coming to their rescue as everyone is dealing with this situation his own back yard. I don’t think the WHO (World Health Organization) will have the financial means to assist poor countries because those who usually donate are themselves struggling to deal with the virus.

It seems that there will be no help coming from anywhere: sooner or later. It means that every country has to fight for its own survival. There is no way any country will feel more sorry for another country than itself. Everyone is trying to ensure that her citizens are safe from the devastating impact of this virus.

What is more terrifying is that the best health care systems in the world are crumbling under the weight of COVID-19. The US, the richest country in the world, is claiming that its healthcare system has been overwhelmed by the COVID-19. Some of the best hospitals in Italy are overwhelmed.

As we were challenged during EVD in 2014, it is becoming apparent that no health care delivery system, the world over, can ever be adequately prepared for such epidemic or pandemic. Like in our neck-of-the-woods were health professionals got infected because of the lack of PPE, the same exact thing is happening in the US. The US is supposed to be the golden standard in health care delivery and it is in the same exact position as we were in 2014.

Considering all of this, it is my strong opinion that we have to take 4-times more drastic measures than what is being obtaining in the US, China and Italy so that we don’t have an outbreak because no one is coming. They are all busy at home. What we learned from EVD is that in a situation where there is no cure, we do everything to curtail transmission. That is why social mobilization and contact tracing are extremely important. We need to watch out for ourselves. We need to listen to the health professionals. We need to listen to the Government.

I understand that the Incident Management Team was meeting today in Liberia. I hope they put together the appropriate protocols, communicate them well, and get the community involved. These viruses are fought and contained at the community level.

May God bless our neck-of-the-woods and keep us safe!

COVID-19: My reflections on EVD and the lessons we learned.

It was exactly in March 2014 that the first case of Ebola was reported in Liberia even though Ebola became dramatic on July 25, 2014 when we lost our friend, PO Sawyer. May his soul RIP while his memories live with us forever.

Ebola taught us many lessons that I hope we have all learned. I can say with much confidence that, after our experience with Ebola, we have some of the finest public health practitioners who can manage epidemics of this proportion.

Dr. Fallah and his team, if given the support and cooperation, can manage the containment of the coronavirus. Dr. Fallah and many others worked on social mobilization and contact tracing which are key to containing a virus that has no immediate cure.

There are also others like Dr. Brown, Chief Medical Officer of the Republic, who ran the treatment center at ELWA and was innovative in putting together a cocktail of medications that saw many walk from that treatment center, fully recovered.

I am also aware of the works done by Abel Newon, Senator Oscar Cooper, Michael George, and countless others in movilizing their communities to be proactive in stopping the spread. There were also many volunteers who worked the phones at GSA under the able leadership of Mary Broh and Dorbor Jallah. Dorbor became a. expert in setting up Forward Logistics Bases (FLB) to move supplies closer to affected areas and people.

Senator Saah Joseph, with a passion for health care, risk his life to get many infected people to treatment centers.

We learned a lot from an epidemiological stand point and I am sure we will be able to contain this virus. We just need to take it seriously and listen to the professionals.

Tolbert Nyesuah and Thomas Nagbe and the rest of the guys were great in setting up the Incident Management Center and providing the epidemiologic data to inform the fight against EVD.

However, here is my worry: the economy. I can argue that we are yet to fully recover from the effect that Ebola had on our economy and if COVID-19 adds to it then it might be decades before we see pre-ebola (2013) economic numbers.

It might be time that we begin to think about measures that will reduce the potential impact of COVID-19 on the economy but more importantly how we will recover after the COVID-19.

I believe that already we are seeing some adverse impact on the economy. There are importers who cannot get supply out of China and this means that we won’t be able to get customs duty and so revenue collection will go down. But imagine what if some of the big companies in Liberia change their investment decisions because they were hit hard by COVID-19, globally? This could be consequential.

But the good news is that there are several smart young economists and usiness people in the country who have learned some valuable lessons during the EVD recovery. We may not have had the opportunity of these lessons and so we started discussing EVD economic recovery in August 2014 after we came from our 21-day quarantine. Yes, we had to quarantine ourselves because we had contact with PO Sawyer and the Ministry of Health professionals advised that we do that.

However, today, we have the benefit of learning from what happened during the EVD and we can take plenty of precautions and measures. It is never too early to start planning and now is the time. If we plan for the worse case and nothing happens, that is fine but failing to plan and then the worse case happens, that would be catastrophic.

And let’s not treat COVID-19 like we did Ebola: I remember that while we were fighting the greatest health challenge in our life time, some of us were plotting an “Ellen Step Down” campaign. Nothing can be more unpatriotic than this. Let’s not do that again. Never!

These are my 2 cents.

And most definitely my thoughts and prayers are with my friend, Nathaniel and his family. I am sure he will beat this.

And let’s not stigmatise people in this fight. That is another dangerous thing that can undermine the fight.

God bless the Motherland

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