Bobby F. Weetol-Livingstone
A Tribute to Health Workers
In this write-up, the writer pens his impression about the extraordinary efforts being exerted by health workers in Liberia, and in the world at large to combat a virulent and debilitating disease known as Coronavirus or COVID-19. This dangerous disease which first appeared in China in December 2019, quickly crammed at the doorsteps of other parts of Asia, and then to Europe, the USA and in no time has surfaced with its deadly face in the rest of the world, is on the rampage. It remains, invariably, the biggest medical conundrum to hit the world in recent history.
What is the COVID-19 PANDEMIC?
It is called Coronavirus or COVID-19 because it first showed its scourging presence in 2019 in Wuhan, China and has spread its contagious and deadly claws across the globe, with Liberia not being spared. This virus, of cosmic proportion, is hovering over the earth space like a roaring and unstoppable beast and inflicting incalculable damage. COVID-19 is wrecking havoc, killing people, collapsing economies, ravishing dysfunctional healthcare systems and overwhelming state-of-the-art and sophisticated health care systems. It has upset the normal course of human interaction and circumscribed socialization to an abyss, with social distancing, wearing of mouth/nose masks, and an endless washing of hands in the public space being the global new normal. COVID-19 has also brought to the ascendency a new phenomenon of working from home (WFH). A health expert aptly refers to the virus as a disease of hate, because it abhors the normal social intercourse of handshakes, hugging and other physical contacts people relish in the exchange of pleasantries and the expression of intimacy. The mask coronavirus currently wears is the ignorance of the world of its biological content, its characteristics and physiology. The coronavirus is a respiratory illness that is transmitted through droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking that is left on an object or surface to which individuals are exposed to, touching or talking in very close proximity with an infected person. Health experts say it is both symptomatic and asymptomatic disease. Symptomatic because it has signs and symptoms; asymptomatic because carriers of the virus may not show symptoms yet can infect others. Some of its symptoms include: fever, sneezing, coughing and shortness of breath, among others.
Impact of the Virus
The obscure nature of the coronavirus gives it an apparent advantage over the global health capabilities and has made it perilous to the human race at this particular juncture. In short, there is no known cure or treatment for the virus, but can be prevented by avoiding close contacts with infected persons, observing social distancing and avoid touching nose, eyes and mouth with unclean/unsanitized hands, constant washing of hands and wearing of masks. Globally, diligent efforts to develop a vaccine are in the works. As at the time of this write-up, the writer posits, several clinical and human trials are being conducted globally for a vaccine, but these have yielded no fruitful outcome yet. It is interesting to note that the manipulative prowess of scientists is yet to prove superior to subdue this stubborn and nefarious disease. Coronavirus has grounded the airline industry, shutdown outdoor and indoor recreation, sporting events and brought the world to a virtual pause. It has also crippled economies, with rich and powerful nations including USA, Great Britain, China, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, others feeling its bumpy crunch. The virus has put millions out of jobs, snatched more than 300,000 lives, while over 4 Million people are infected worldwide. In Liberia, over 200 persons have come down and counting, with the virus while health authorities put the death toll at 35 as at the time of this article.
The Barehanded Soldiers in the Fight Against Corona
The writer describes them as the frontline soldiers and commanders- the health care workers -the Doctors, the Nurses, Laboratory Technicians, Public Health Practitioners, Epidemiologists, Scientists, Care Givers and Ambulance Drivers that are working against the odds to fight an invisible and unknown, but lethal enemy.
In Liberia, in particular, the health care workers are working under unpleasant and mundane conditions that have attended the health system for decades. As at the time of this piece, there were reports that there is very little or no personal protection equipment (PPEs), i.e., no standard face masks, no hand gloves, no ventilators, limited or no testing kits, yet they are daringly working around the clock vigorously battling to abate a disease which knows no borders.
Fight Against COVID-19 in Liberia
The Coronavirus is no respecter of class, race, economic, political and social status. Some prominent world figures have contracted the virus including Prince Charles, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to name but a few. In Liberia, the Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Nathaniel Blama is the first person to have been tested positive on March 16, 2020, but survived along with dozens of other earlier known cases. However, the Director of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Col. Michael Soko and little over a dozen others have to date, fallen prey to the virus and have succumbed.
Later, the Minister of Justice, Cllr. F. Musa Dean and the Minister of Information, L. Eugene Nagbe, Deputy Police Director for Administrator Sadiatu Reeves and a host of other government officials – also contracted the disease; were treated and discharged from the newly built 14th Military Hospital. It was reported in the media that President George Weah who closely interacted with Nagbe prior to the Minister testing positive with the virus did not self-quarantine as required under the health protocols. Information from the corridors of state actors hinted that President Weah might have contracted the disease as his alleged secretly leaked test result showed. As a consequence of that alleged leakage, a number of health workers from the National Public Health Institute of Liberia and the Montserrado County Health Team were subjected to security interrogation.
The writer who spoke to one of the health workers was informed of their horrifying ordeal and how they were intimidated and harassed for hours by the authorities of the National Security Agency. However, Health authorities, probably for the fear of losing their jobs, have remained tight-lip on the matter. There is no indication whether President submitted himself to be tested, but was seen with a dazzling array of government officials distributing rice and COVID prevention materials in some communities around Monrovia and parts adjacent.
That being said, in the face of inadequate supply of critically needed materials, these men and women are saving lives, attending to the sick, the persons who have symptoms, or are showing signs of the virus. These health workers are working under the most severe and appalling infrastructural defects with no emoluments, low salaries which are usually not paid on time. These health workers continue to brave the icy current to face the bullets at the frontline of the fight against the scathing attacks of the disease. They are vulnerable and practically barehanded due to lack of the necessary tools and equipment they need to face the invisible but deadly enemy.
While the writer agrees that these health workers took an oath to serve humanity and to save lives, they cannot continuously be exposed to danger and subjected to humiliation caused by the unfavorable conditions of service while they combat a disease to the peril of their lives. As these health care workers continue to face the enemy at the frontlines, despite these abysmal conditions, the writer herein embellishes them with a humble salute for the incredible job. These health workers are the unsung heros of this fight against the coronavirus. The writer reminisces that during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, Liberia was caught with its pants down. The health care delivery system was moribund, and unprepared to respond and to combat the plaque at the time.
That being said, in the aftermath of the EBOLA outbreak, it was expected that the country would erect a typology of adequate preparation by garnering the requisite tools and the necessary safeguards that would evince the commitment of politicians and policy makers to build a resilient health system. However, the recent outbreak of the corona virus has exposed the seemingly intractable weakness and showcased that the system still remains in tatters. It also accentuates the exigency of the health system and hammers in the stubborn truth that national leaders have made no significant investment and or have not prioritized allocation of adequate resources and to make other interventions required to build a resilient health care system. Suffice it to say that Ebola did not teach us any hard lesson, neither did it prepare the country to bear and combat the outbreak of another epidemic or a pandemic as the national response to the coronavirus has eloquently unraveled.
In the calculus for combating this current global pandemic, and bracing for future outbreaks in Liberia, the need to hugely invest in the health care infrastructure and personnel cannot be overemphasized. The nuance is that considering the relics that are traceable to the Ebola virus, the building of a vibrant and responsive health care delivery system is inextricably linked to erecting the requisite technical and professional safeguards to respond to the current coronavirus and future outbreak of an epidemic or a pandemic for that matter.
The health care infrastructure remains seriously challenged and unimpressive. The shameful conditions that attended the outbreak of EBOLA are very present, which further expose our health care workers to danger, and getting possibly infected while they help to save lives. In the likely event that many of health care workers get infected with the virus due to these prevailing de-motivating working conditions, this would have deleterious consequences on the overall effort to combat the virus. Giving care at such a crucial time of national health emergency is not a simple act imposed by mere professional duty and the obligation to save lives. It is typical of the biblical story of one laying down his life for another to be saved.
It becomes even colossal when such fight presents real and clear danger to their lives. The writer applauds the valor emitted by the unbridled commitment of the men and women of the health care system of Liberia and their counterparts around the world. In spite of the unpleasant and horrible conditions they are made to work under, the health caregivers continue to be at the frontlines amidst systemic failures and inadequacies. In Liberia, the laundry list of shortcomings that attend the healthcare delivery system range from absence of basic social services, i.e. lack of pipe borne water, lack of electricity and poor infrastructure and lack of incentives for health workers.
The writer masks this salutation to the health care workers for their unmatched bravery and tenacity in the fight against coronavirus with a clarion call that if the fight against COVID-19 pandemic is to gain currency, health workers need an unprecedented scale of motivation from both the Government and the general public to continue to grapple with such a herculean task.
The health workers need the support of the Government, public and private institutions, entrepreneurs, private citizens and the citizenry at large to lend them any and every assistance as they continue to be at the epic center of the fight against this vituperative disease. The write takes off hat to the doctors, the nurses, the lab technicians, public health practitioners, health administrators and ambulance drivers and their partners who continue to brave the storm and to rise to the occasion to work diligently to flatten the curve in the fight against COVID-19 in Liberia. Their performance remains outstanding in the face of these awful and untenable conditions enumerated hereinabove.
The writer touts that all and sundry need to rise to the occasion to encourage the health workers by embellishing them with bouquets of gratitude and heartwarming renditions of appreciation for the tireless efforts and tremendous sacrifices they continue to endure. The writer entreats them to continue the extraordinary effort to serve humanity and their communities for which posterity will ever remain kind to them. It is a rallying call to stand with them and to honor the commitment by continuously illuminating their selfless strides with thunderous applauses and lavishing them with snippets of individual and collective actions, showering them with gifts, big or small, during this time of a national health pandemic. Bravo to the health workers, bravo to the public health practitioners for the stunning act of heroism demonstrated then and now.
The writer lavishes love and appreciation to them in a big way for this huge and extraordinary effort to roll back and abate the spread of the deadly corona virus-COVID-19. BRAVO TO THE BAREHANDED HEROS, BRAVO TO THE HEALTH CARE WORKERS OF LIBERIA.
About the Author
Bobby F. Weetol-Livingstone studied law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia. He also read Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies, in the Hague, Netherlands. He is a keen observer of political events in his country and globally, and is very passionate about governance issues in the motherland. He is presently a lecturer of Mass Communication at the United Methodist University (UMU). He is also Secretary General of the Liberian National Bar Association and Counselor at-Law of the Supreme Court Bar.