The government has initiated regulatory measures, for example limiting the number of people in commercial vehicles. They’ve also closed schools and banned church gatherings.
At Redemption Hospital, we’ve put in place infection prevention and control measures. We’re washing our hands constantly with soap and clean water and observing physical distancing rules. We also spray hospital surfaces with disinfectant.
Unfortunately, our personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are dwindling. We don’t have enough masks, gowns and gloves. Nevertheless, we appreciate government and partner efforts to fill these gaps, and we’re committed to doing our best under the circumstances.
We are admonishing the community to take this emergency seriously. They shouldn’t be slow to respond to COVID-19 as we were to Ebola.
We are telling people that when there is someone in their home who doesn’t feel well, they should call emergency services or seek medical care immediately.
Are fake news and false rumours about COVID-19 an issue? How do you gain community trust in responding to the pandemic?
Liberia’s poor literacy rate is a major handicap in managing outbreaks like these. Patients with low levels of education may find it difficult to understand their health needs, filter false information, follow instructions and advocate for themselves and their families.
During the early days of Ebola, people didn’t want to believe health workers; they thought our warnings about this deadly disease were a ploy to get international aid. That was until people began dying around them and then they took it seriously.
Now we’re telling them that just because COVID-19 death rates aren’t as high in Liberia as elsewhere around the world doesn’t mean they should take their health and safety for granted. We’re referencing the Ebola experience so that people don’t repeat the same mistakes.
We’re asking people with the means to listen to international radio to understand the international impact of the pandemic. We hope that once they hear how much rich countries are struggling to get the virus under control, they will see why it’s so important to take it seriously in a country like Liberia with a weak health infrastructure.
What role does contact tracing play in preventing outbreaks?
Contact tracing is the cardinal tool if you want to curtail the spread of a disease like COVID-19. Once a case is identified, tested and isolated, you must immediately trace all the people the individual has come into contact with and monitor them for a defined period of time. If you don’t, the disease is going to spread beyond imagination.
As a contract tracing supervisor during the Ebola outbreak, I was responsible for training other contact tracers on the specific protocols. Contact tracers were assigned to monitor suspected cases and their contacts for 21 days and provide daily reports to the Ministry of Health. Anyone who showed signs and symptoms of Ebola, including a high fever was immediately reported to the Ministry, and immediate action was taken by isolating the contact and testing them.
What were some of the challenges you encountered working as an Ebola contact tracer? What are some lessons that can help with COVID-19 response?