BY PROFESSOR AUGUSTINE KONNEH PhD
The need for declaring a State of Emergency in Liberia hardly requires an explanation in the face of the gravity of our predicament. The Ebola epidemic is a very serious health crisis that demands extraordinary measures to contain it. The normal exercise of the authority of the government is not adequate to the challenge post by the potential of the virus to spread through person to person or people to people contact. Hence, the need for Emergency powers declared by the Executive and thus ratified by the legislature. These powers will enable the government to take urgently needed action to localize the disease in those communities in which it appears to have a high incidence by quarantining its inhabitants.
Besides this, there are a number of other urgent regulations and measures that are needed to stave off the epidemic. It is to be noted that the other affected countries Sierra Leone and Nigeria have also declared states of emergency while the Republic of Guinea has ordered its borders close to Sierra Leone and Liberia for the purpose of swiftly and effectively preventing the spread of the virus.
A state of Emergency is not declared lightly. It is not necessarily declared just for political reasons. In many cases it is declared to deal with natural catastrophes such as floods, earthquakes, forest fires where they occur, uncontrollable outbreak of infectious disease etc. For example, in the United State, a friendly nation there are fairly frequent declarations of States of Emergencies in areas visited by such catastrophes.
No doubt, it is also to be noted that States of Emergencies are sometimes declared ostensibly to grapple with problems of serious political instability
manifesting a high incidence of public violence. It is no secret that sometimes some governments have sought to use such emergency to serve their own interest rather than the public’s.
However, the current State of Emergency is definitely not motivated by any political consideration. Rather, it is driven by a genuine concern for our well-being as a people. There is no fear that our civil liberties will be indiscriminately suppressed. Nevertheless, certain conditions that arise or may arise may require that certain measures be allowed to override certain considerations of civil liberties e.g. the interdiction of people traveling or moving from one area of the country to another (done at check points set for the purpose of either screening or simply ordering such persons to return to their communities or other points of departure): securing entrance into premises to check for infected carriers, quarantining dwellings or whole communities, imposing stringent public sanitation ordinances, allocating and spending funds that may not heather to have been earmarked for the aim of health, commandeering private transportation and private building for public use, introducing when and if necessary price control on basic commodities, compelling the admission and treatment of the sick to hospitals and clinics because the admission of the sick even for ailment like malaria is even difficult due to the fear that is entertained by nurses and other hospital staff, arresting and detaining rumor mongers who tend to spread false information that may engendered panic or spur resistance to ordinances and other restrictions. It may also involve the closing of borders from incoming and outgoing traffic.
These and other measures are example of what the government is authorized to impose during the period of the emergency for the health and well-being of the nation. It is full hardy to try to resist such measures in at our safety.
The government has already done much to contain the outbreak of the disease. As stated in an earlier article on the virus,(i) the government of Liberia has ordered the closing of all schools until further notice. (ii) It has allocated funds to the Ministry of Health for deploying health workers to spray the environment with disinfectants, (iii) it has instituted measures for checking on people from house to house to observe whether there are some with the symptom of the disease, and where there is, so to bring them to quarantine facilities for treatment. (iv) The Ministry of Health has also been conducting public education and awareness on the dangers of the virus as well as the necessary measures to avoid contracting and spreading it.
(V) Measures have also been adopted to isolate the locations where the incident of infection appears to be high.
(VI) Other measures include the cremation of corpses of those who are suspected to have been infected with the disease. (VII) In addition, the government has decided to reduce the staff of the various ministries for a month to the level of essential staff sending the others home on a paid follow for the period. (VIII) The Ministry of Commerce has also been instructed to allow the importation of receptacles (buckets) needed for the cleansing of hands in chlorinize water.
Beyond this, worshipping centers (Churches and Mosques), shopping centers, businesses and entertainment places are required to provide facilities for the washing of hands in antiseptic solution as well as to announce and post notices of the danger of the Ebola epidemic. Some of these entertainment centers now play music that carries awareness messages about the disease.
The President attended a meeting of the leaders of the affected states in Conakry, where it was decided to quarantine the inhabitants of the meeting points of the three nations. Besides, President Johson-Sirleaf decided to forgo a meeting of African Heads of States with the United States that took place between August 4 and August 6. This was to allow her to devote her full attention to the crisis.
The legislatures have organized youth groups to further the awareness campaign as well as carry some needed resources to their constituents.
However, it is suggested that the following additional measures be taken: (1) the urgent removal of all refuge in public places (2) sanitation inspection of compounds and yards (3) inspection of water supply to ensure that water for domestic uses is not contaminated (4) regular inspection of markets to ensure that minimal standard of sanitation are observed with regards to the cleanliness of the stalls , the receptacles for produce and other wares sold as well as the packaging of items. It may be advisable to use can food for now. In the face of the hardship being experience by some it might be advisable to help provide some food stuff such as rice, oil and can fish and vegetables (5) the strict enforcement of public sanitation ordinances in the city of Monrovia and the rural areas particularly as its relate to urinating, defecating and spiting in public places (6) the need to go back to the source of the epidemic, and prohibiting the loose handling of dead animals in the wild and the consumption of it. All wild meats that is publicly sold should be tested for contamination and regulated.
The State of Emergency is for a period during which it is still possible to go to court to challenge the validity of those measures that may be perceived as not pertaining directly or indirectly to the cause of the State of Emergency. It is for the court to decide on the legality and validity of such specific measures.
The State of Emergency may not be used to impose unwarranted hardship, not pertaining to the cause for which the Emergency was declared. In addition, before its expiration the Executive is required to go to the legislature for a review of the State of Emergency, the measures enforced under its prevention, and its possible extension. The Legislature may decide to extend the authorization and ratify the measures or may decide to end its life, if it deems it no longer necessary.
The important thing to remember, however, is that the government has no intention of using the authorization to further its own interest or that of any segment of the citizenry.
We therefore need to have faith in the benevolence of our government. Let us fully cooperate to enable us to constrict the spread of this devastating disease.
The next point is the response of the nations of the international community as well as relevant international organizations such as the WHO, FAO, UNICEF, WFP, UNESCO, THE EU etc. The WHO has, already announce the donation of $100m towards the campaign to stop the virus and bring relief to those affected by it.
The Director has called the epidemic an international Emergency of great concern to all. For if it is not successfully halted it has the potential of becoming a pandemic threat in these day of extensive travel and international interaction.
In Saudi Arabia a visitor to Sierra Leone returned with disease and died in the hospital in Jeddah soon after. Two health workers who returned to the United States are still held in isolation in a hospital for observation and experimental treatment.
The WHO Director has called for all nations to donate money and other resources to stem the spread of the virus. We support the appeal and count on all to make substantial donations in money and other resources to a profoundly humanitarian cause.
Among those who have promised aid are the United States of America whose President announce that the United States will send experts and health workers as well as provide resources to fight the virus, the governments of the Peoples Republic of China and South Korean. The African Development Bank has also announce the donation of $60m.
We wish to express our gratitude for these donations and efforts. Our gratitude also goes to Medecins San Frontiers and their partner, the Samaritan Purse, the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health of the United States for much needed technical support.
The affected countries should now seize this opportunity to establish adequate preventive health facilities including the training of people of public health as well as an increasing number of primary care physicians. A little later efforts should be directed at providing incentives to medical graduates to specialize in fields like oncology, endocrinology, cardiology, internal medicine, etc. The countries in the Mano River Union for instance can pull their resources together to create facilities in public health and the provision of well equipped hospitals. There is also a great need for diagnostic laboratories.
The currently affected countries are determine to do their part: for it is they who are ultimately responsible for the health and well-being of their peoples. However, being developing nations, there is only so much they are able to do on their own. We therefore, hope that a global awareness campaign about the crisis is being mounted around the World. FIGHT ON LIBERIA!