The Ebola scare in Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea is getting worse every day. There are now two Americans that have been infected with the virus. One of the popular doctors in Monrovia - Dr. Brisbane - passed away over the weekend. Another popular doctor in Sierra Leone is currently infected. If you live in that part of the world it feels like perhaps this is the "big one".
Over the weekend I have come to know from my ex-staff in Liberia that Dr. Samuel Brisbane passed away from Ebola. Liberians are grief-stricken by the loss of the Chief Medical Office of the most famous referral hospital in Liberia - JFK Hospital. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Brisbane during one of the many meetings at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW) when I worked in Liberia. I did not know him outside professional interactions, but he always brought a good spirit to the JFK hospital whenever I visited for work. And, most importantly, he was respected as an authority in medicine. I can only imagine the morale of JFK staff at the moment, after their beloved leader passed away.
There are numerous mainstream media reports on Ebola in West Africa. However, I feel that most of them are not comprehensive. While I have known for a while - through my ex staff in Liberia - that the situation on the ground is not entirely reflective of what is being reported in the media, most of the my friends and family back in the US are not being told the complete story. Only recently are we hearing reports of communities refusing access to Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Some of us have been hearing these reports from almost three months ago. This animosity towards MSF is important to notice because MSF is one of the few organizations that has consistently been at the forefront of the outbreak response. If MSF is denied entry into communities and cannot provide care, the crisis will undoubtedly get worse. My ex staff in Liberia tell a similar story of family members threatening clinic staff with physical violence and taking away their infected family members from the hospitals to care for them at home. The communities do not trust the medical care and believe that quarantine is a way of "controlling" the locals. In fact, the situation in Liberia has gotten so bad with families hiding their infected family members that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had to issue a government order stating that hiding Ebola-infected members from medical care is a punishable offense.
We are now hearing of a suspected Ebola death in Nigeria that may have come from Liberia. If Ebola has spread from Liberia to Nigeria, I am afraid it has spread to the countries in between - Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Benin, and Togo - because of porous borders. As of a few days ago, President Johnson-Sirleaf has restricted movements in and out of Liberia. The land borders are to remain closed but the Roberts International Airport remains open with possible testing for passengers who are entering and leaving the airport. Considering my past experience in Liberia, I do not put much stock in how or if this testing will be conducted. However, it is a important step in disease surveillance.
So far all my ex staff are safe and sound, in spite of working in the infected areas. I pray for their safety and hope that the outbreak subsides. This is one event we need to closely monitor and take measures to contain the infection. As we used to say during our work meetings at the MOHSW - "God bless Liberia!". Even though I do not live or work there anymore, Liberia will always be in my heart and well wishes. Liberians always believe God will save Liberia and its people...this is one time that God may want to step in and give hope to the Liberians.
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