The year under review, 2014 had so many things that one would highlight for appreciation as well as personalities that this paper would love to place on the spotlight from different spheres of the society but the event which dragged Liberia as a country to its feet is what captured our attention for the year.
Untraditionally, the editorial department of this paper has decided to retrospect the spirited role of individuals and institutions in the healthcare sector during the outbreak of the Ebola virus in the country, which this paper considers the most memorable event of the year.
To this, the editorial department seeks to bring to celebrity several healthcare workers in its year-end personality column. In 2014, a strange virus disease surfaced in Lofa County, the northern part of Liberia, when its health infrastructures were barely unable to respond to the Ebola crisis therefore several young and promising healthcare practitioners volunteered their services to the eradication of the strange virus.
The virus took a serious toll on the country’s population affecting almost all of the 15 political sub-divisions claiming the lives of several persons including health practitioners, which dealt a solemn blow on the health sector that was already paralyzed long before the Ebola outbreak. Even though the healthcare system is yet to be restored to its basic health services, those who stood in the fight to reclaim the system must be earnestly recognized and their services remembered.
When the first reported case of Ebola appeared in Liberia on March 22, 2014 it was completely unexpected. Cases of Ebola had been officially confirmed in Guinea just over a week before, and the spread to Liberia could not have occurred quickly once people knew what was going on. The cases at the time were confined to Lofa County, until a woman believed to have travelled back to Margibi County died later at the Firestone Medical Hospital.
Ebola was unprecedented in Liberia, and the health system was not set up to deal with it. Actors such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) who is currently operating the ELWA l Ebola Unit in Monrovia mobilized quickly to set up an Ebola Treatment Unit in Lofa County and the private company Firestone Liberia moved to isolate contacts in Margibi, where the woman had died. During that time the Ministry of Health decided holding daily briefings for partners and anyone interested to discuss the Ebola situation.
As the number of cases dwindled, and it seemed as though Ebola had left Liberia, the daily meetings transitioned to just a few week, and the number of partners attending dropped dramatically with the thought that Ebola was no longer in the country. However, in June, cases again appeared in Liberia, and on June 17 cases were officially reported in the capital of Monrovia in Montserrado County, a densely populated county with approximately 1.5 million of the 4 million people in Liberia.
To date, with the proliferation of Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) being constructed across the country, Liberia is proud to be reporting of empty beds at the various centers which are functional especially in the five hard-hit counties considered the worst affected areas including Montserrado, Bong, Margibi, Bomi and Lofa Counties. We are also so much proud of the men and women who continued to place their lives on the line including those of their families not forgetting the Ebola burial teams, the National Task Force on Ebola and the various task forces organized in affected counties, the First Responders and the contact tracers including the communities.
The Editorial Department of The INQUIRER recognized the sacrificial role played by all healthcare workers for which we refer to them as our heroes and heroines in the fight against the Ebola menace and we take keen the great action by the following individuals: President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Chair of the National Taskforce, Woman of the Year on the Fight against Ebola, Mr. Tolbert Nyensuah, Assistant Health Minister for Preventive Services, Health Practitioner of the Year; Dr. Jerry Brown, Administrator of the ELWA Hospital and head of the ELWA ETU ll; Medical Doctor of the Year; Dr. Gabriel Logan, head of the County Health Department at the Government Hospital in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, Doctor of the Year, the cleaners, support staff and Saah Joseph, Representative of District#13, Montserrado County, Humanitarian of The year, Dr. Anne D. Attai-Omoruto, and all of the Health facilities that began attending to victims of the Ebola virus before government even knew what to do, like the Firestone Medical Hospital.
Our heroes and heroines of 2014 also include all other healthcare workers who were the front liners in the fight against the deadly virus, especially those who lost their precious lives while fighting to save humanity as well as those who contracted the virus in their quest to save lives. These people are indeed our true heroes and heroines; they put their lives on the line to save other lives. We will always remember and continue to honor them for their irreplaceable services to this nation and society.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
It is no doubt that President Sirleaf played a pivotal role in the fight against the Ebola thus, beginning from the establishment of the National Task Force on Ebola and the idea to set up an Incident Management System (IMS) to closely monitor the CDC response in emergencies. With these efforts nationally, President Sirleaf who got sincerely involved in the growing Ebola response that led to the pouring in of international assistance in helping Liberia combat the deadly epidemic that claimed the lives of thousands of Liberians as well as foreign nationals residing in the borders of Liberia.
When the virus was seriously raging in every part of the country, President Sirleaf in consultation with health authorities took some appropriate and decisive steps by declaring the Ebola virus disease a national health emergency and further went on to declare a three-month State of Emergency intended to curb the rapid spread of the pestilence. The Liberian leader even cancelled all foreign trips to enable her work with health authorities in combating the uncompromising virus.
As the virus rapidly spread in the country, President Sirleaf took another uncompromising decision by quarantining several communities including the densely populated Township of West Point and Dolo Town that were hard-hit by the epidemic. Despite these efforts, the virus continued to rage on, claiming lives in every part of the country.
When the Liberian leader noticed that the Ebola virus has become a national crisis and poses serious danger to the survival of the citizens, she did not ‘eat her crab with shame’ instead she immediately wrote a passionate letter to the world calling on other nations of the world to assist her country contain the virus as it was spreading rapidly throughout the country. The communication received positive response thus, leading to the coming of more assistance from China, Cuba, America, and other nations of the world with Liberia getting the “lion’s share” of most of the aids sent to the three African countries hit by the virus.
Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah
We have deemed it expedient to carry Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah, the Assistant Health Minister for Preventive Services, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare as our health practitioner of the year who serves as the umbrella for our gratitude to all health practitioners and workers in the Ebola fight. When it became clear in June that the strange virus was bound to wipe the population of Liberia, the name Tolbert Nyenswah was the lone name from the Ministry of Health that joined the fight doing whatever he could to address the situation. Minister Nyenswah, for example, given his normal duties of overseeing the Community Health Services Division, was heavily involved in Social Mobilization and community awareness.
The President contacted the Minister of Health, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, who requested Minister Nyenswah directly on August 11, 2014 on the President’s behalf to build and manage the IMS, effectively giving him the mandate and authority to coordinate the entire health response to Ebola.
Minister Nyenswah has been actively involved in the Ebola response and set up daily briefings for the public on UNMIL radio, where he would speak to the Liberian people about the situation with Ebola and the response. With his commitment to helping in whatever way possible, from high level tasks such as creating some of the first national budgets for the Ebola response for necessary details such as one day heading to a car agency himself with the Ministry of Health procurement and finance team in order to procure vehicles for the burial teams so that they could do their job.
When tasked with building and leading the IMS, the first steps Minister Nyenswah took were to formally create all necessary sub-committees and technical leads which covered the primary pillars of the response, including Case Management, Epi/Surveillance, Laboratory, Contact Tracing, Psychosocial and Social Mobilization; a position he still handles with delicacy while at the same time serving as Assistant Minister for Preventive Services.
Dr. Gabriel Logan
At the onset of the Ebola crisis, Bomi County which was reporting about a total of 66 confirmed cases of the Ebola virus and about 70 more were being suspected, was then included among counties being worst affected. Dr. Gabriel Logan, the head of the county health department at the Government Hospital in Tubmanburg, Bomi County having sought all medical relief like any other healthcare worker in the fight against the virus, began using his own protocol in treating Ebola virus in that part of the region. Dr. Logan is the first doctor reported using the Anti-Retro Virus Drugs along with other supplements to cure victims of the Ebola virus thereby bringing relief to the residents; even though there is still absolutely no particular drug for the cure of the Ebola virus, while other international partners frowned and disbelieved that the usage of the expensive ARV Drug that was being used to cure another stained virus called HIV and AIDS could also heal patients with the Ebola virus.
Dr. Jerry Brown
A Liberian national, Dr. Jerry Brown is a physician with the Christian Mission Agency, SIM and also a medical director at the ELWA II Ebola Unit. He became concerned about the Ebola outbreak early on and prepared the hospital to receive infected patients before the virus spreads to the nation’s capital. He converted the hospital’s chapel into an Ebola treatment facility, the only one in Liberia for more than a month and built a larger one which was the second Ebola unit to be constructed in the country and treated those infected with the virus. His unit was the first to begin putting out survivors of the Ebola virus, telling the world that indeed persons infected with the virus that report at a health facility early for treatment could be cured.
Dr. Anne D. Attai-Omoruto
Dr. Attai-Omoruto is a practicing family physician based in Kampala, Uganda and was among 12 Ugandan medics who arrived in Liberia to boost the emergency response to the Ebola epidemic. This team was contracted by the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide technical expertise.
Dr. Omoruto worked and is still working tirelessly to ensure that Ebola is contained across the country and was later assigned at the refurbished Island Clinic where an ETU was constructed and she and other local health teams successfully relocated victims from the JFK Ebola Unit to the Island Clinic Ebola Unit. She was also instrumental in encouraging people with symptoms of the Ebola virus to report to the health facility of treatment center for early treatment. Presently, she heads the Island Clinic Ebola Unit.
Saah Joseph-Manager of the First Responder (An Ambulance Service)
In a country where public services have virtually collapsed, Liberia was an example of a country that had only two ambulances available for 4 million people and to imagine saving the lives of patients who contracted the Ebola virus was a far-fetched dream.
Saah Joseph, a politician from the onset imported ambulances that were not just about saving lives rather it was a shrewd advertising campaign that he knew would impress his constituents. Little did this lawmaker know that from his personal initiative he would have become the lifeline for victims of the worst Ebola outbreak in our history. In February, weeks before the disease hit, the lawmaker imported six shiny ambulances from central California with a modest goal of serving his constituents suffering everyday from ailments which carried his smiling photograph and by February, the ambulances were on the streets of Monrovia but not until in March, the Ebola crisis and Saah Joseph’s political ambitions intersected.
By August, each one was carrying dozens of Ebola patients a day. Representative Joseph whose private cell phone numbers were already on the ambulances began getting active calls as many residents took advantage of calling upon him due to his speed in getting patients to isolation centers or health facilities.
Joseph outfitted his team with boxes of protective gears and gallons of disinfectants which they use to clean the vehicles with chlorinated water. Sometimes he drives the ambulance himself with his team picking up babies with Ebola as well as pregnant women.
As the Ebola cases decrease in the country, Rep. Joseph’s initiative is still responsive as his ambulances spend nearly an entire day transporting patients with non-Ebola illnesses to seek medical attention in the midst of several constrains ranging from wages for his team and fuel or gasoline to keep the vehicles moving.
Servants of Africa Fighting Ebola (SAFE)
The Servants of Africa Fighting Ebola (SAFE) a non-governmental organization was also instrumental in spreading the preventive messages of the Ebola virus and the danger it carries. Since the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, SAFE has been spreading the message of the deadly virus throughout the breadth and length of Liberia through their volunteers using mega phones. The founder of SAFE is Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh while most of their volunteers are marketers and money exchangers.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Equally, special recognition to the two sisterly charitable organizations, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. that constructed a 100-bedroom Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in Virginia, outside Monrovia and sent a 40-foot container with assorted medical supplies, valued at US$600,000. This group’s president is the Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation, T. Nelson Williams.
We are also paying tribute to our fore runners like Dr. Philip Ireland, a Liberian physician and epidemiologist who contracted the Ebola virus from a patient and survived, including other workers of the Christian Mission Agency SIM, as well as the healthcare center which doors were opened to receive patients like the C.H. Rennie Hospital, J.F.K. Hospital, Island Clinic and Catholic Hospital not until the virus became a national crisis. Together with several other doctors who cannot all be remembered by names but also lost their lives in the fight, we extend our deepest sympathy to the families of the fallen Administrator of the Catholic Hospital, Dr. Patrick, Dr. Borbor, Dr. Brisbane, Dr. Scotland and Dr. Dada, the Spanish Catholic Priest and several Catholic Nuns.
The editorial department also thought to recognize as significant the roles of the women group that gathered across the Fish Market daily to pray during the heat of the Ebola crisis, the Liberian Council of Churches, Liberia Muslim Council, the Inter-religious Council, and all international partners including the United Nations Agencies not forgetting personal contributions made by Liberians themselves, as well as the military-to-military operation that has brought forth the construction of ETUs with the support of the United States Government across the country.
Those assistance in whatever way given to the Liberian government and people have proven to the world that with commitment and team work Ebola can be contained although Liberians are still carefully embracing the decrease in the number of cases, it does not signify that the country is totally free of the virus.
- Luther Tarpeh
Rev. Dr. J. Luther Tarpeh is UNESCO Peace Ambassador to Liberia and proprietor of the Best Brains Academic along the Roberts International Airport in Paynesville.
During the heat of the Ebola crisis in Liberia, Rev. Tarpeh was one of those basically involved with the distribution of relief and assorted food and non-food items to several ETU’s, community residents and hospitals in the country.
Other areas affected by Rev. Tarpeh’s humanitarian gestures are religious Institutions in Montserrado County, including Grand Bassa, Gbapolu, Bomi, Margibi, Bong, Grand Cape Mount Counties, several disable homes, youths, women groups and medical centers benefited immensely.
Rev. Tarpeh has worked with the vast majority of the Liberian Community, and also serves as one of Liberia’s inspirational speakers with his famous radio program, “Insight for successful Living,” Executive Director of Transformation International, one of Liberia’s top motivational radio program. J. Luther Tarpeh- UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador- 2014