Liberians are facing the latest and most dangerous wave since the Covid-19 pandemic started 15 months ago. This latest wave, caused by the highly infectious Delta variant which entered the country a month ago, has taken dozens of lives including journalists and high-profile personalities.
As of July 11, 2021, the National Public Health Institute of Liberia reported 144 deaths from a total of 5,215 confirmed cases. 2,465, cases are active and 2,606 have recovered. Experts warn the true numbers are likely much higher. Underscoring how infectious the new variant is, a recent surveillance video in Australia captured the moment of transmission between two people who passed each other in a store a meter apart. With a small fraction of the population vaccinated against the virus, things are likely to get worse unless there is a dramatic change in personal behavior.
Despite the new crisis, large sections of the population continue to doubt the disease exists. The same lack of trust in government that marked the early days of the 2014 Ebola outbreak is playing out again.
“As for me, I do not believe that this COVID 19 virus is in Liberia, the government is just putting out false alarm to collect money from the international community,” said Trokon Wilson, a street seller in Monrovia echoing the feelings of many Liberians interviewed by FrontPageAfrica. “If COVID 19 is really here, why did President Weah travel along with a 27-man delegation to France?”
Yet medical staff in health facilities across the country say they are overwhelmed with COVID 19 patients. There are only a few treatment centers across the country that are able to treat them. Doctors are pleading with Liberians to take precautions and protect themselves.
“We are taking too much of a sacrifice for people to be still out there doubting and taking risks with their lives,” a heavily sweating Dr. Richard Doe told a team from Hott TV inside the StarBase National Treatment Center on Bushrod Island. “Please help us. If you guys don’t follow the messages out there, all of this is going to be in vain.”
Dr. Heounohu Hessou, who took the team on a tour of the center, said he wanted the doubting public to see what is going on inside the Treatment Center in order to believe the virus is real.
“I came here not knowing that I was going to live. I could not even walk or talk when I arrived here two months ago,” said Rev. Precious Dagadu, a recovering patient who insisted on speaking to journalists to help the community believe. “But Dr. Kollie and other doctors make sure everybody is important here, without expecting money from anybody. So, I praise God for them.”
Dr. Hessou said when Rev. Dagado came in, her oxygen was as low as 50 percent. Pastor Christian Dagado, the husband to Precious, said anybody who saw the condition his wife was in when she arrived at the clinic would believe Covid-19 was real. The grateful pastor said nobody would have believed she would live.
Dr. Hessou said the demand of oxygen is so high and many patients are severe. They are placed on Hydro oxygen of 15 liters per minute. And the oxygen stays on a patient for three hours while some patients use up to four of the oxygen tanks.
Pointing to dozens of blue large oxygen tanks, Dr. Augustine Kollie, the head doctor, said thanks to supporting from the Indian community the center now has several oxygen tanks for the patients. Last year the center was only seeing five to six cases a day that did not require much oxygen at the same time.
“Now we are having over twenty-five or more cases daily and we have seen patient oxygen saturation dropping as low as 30 percent when the normal rate of oxygen saturation is supposed to be above 90 percent,” Dr. Kollie said.
“We want the Liberian people to see how severe the disease is, because people are really dying,” said Dr. Hessou. “I think the level of disbelief among our people, could be due to the distrust in the health system, but people need to believe the virus is real. Health care workers are risking their lives, so others have to be careful as to not end up in the treatment center. So, at the end of the day, the health workers can also go home to their own families safely.”
According to the Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on the health sector and the delivery of essential public health services in Liberia with a 40 percent overall decline in health facility utilization. That is impacting access to critical services such as immunization, birth registration, and nutrition. That will have knock-on effects for Liberians health down the track.
Across the world, the Delta variant, first seen in India, has torn through communities. Countries that had controlled the virus such as Australia and Taiwan, are now back in lockdown trying to contain it. In Africa, many countries are again overwhelmed.
In Liberia, the health minister announced new rules to help limit the disease including wearing face masks, washing hands, and social distancing to limit the spread of the virus. Large gatherings exceeding 20 people are banned including at funerals, church and other programs.
The numbers of people have reduced on transport vehicles. But police are not fining people who are not wearing their face masks.
The next few weeks will be crucial and doctors say many lives will depend on Liberians believing the virus is real and protecting each other from spreading it.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives. Funding was provided by the American Jewish World Service. The funder had no say in the story’s content.