The People’s Republic of China Stretches the Hands of Friendship by Professor Augustine Konneh, PhD


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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says that "A Friend In Need is a Friend In Deed" in expressing Liberia's appreciation for the generous gesture of medical assistance given to us by the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the fight against the Ebola virus. The quotation is very apt as a recognition of a noble act of generosity and solidarity. As a citizen of Liberia, I have no  doubt that I am expressing the sentiments of all Liberians in echoing the President's statement.  The quoted sentiment is an expression of our profound gratitude in this time of crisis by a friendly  nation with whom we share very cordial relations and which has been very helpful to us in many ways in the past.  Beginning in March of this year, at the outbreak of the first round of the Ebola virus, the government of the People's Republic of China donated medical supplies valued at $160,000.00 to help combat the spread of the virus.  At the same time, Chinese companies in Liberia donated $20,000.00 to communities engaged in fighting the epidemic.  Since then the Chinese Ambassador has remained appraised of the situation.  As a result, his government has very recently donated a cargo plane load of more medical supplies valued at $1.7 million to beef up the intensified efforts at stemming the spread of the virus and for treating those diagnosed as infected.

 

This batch of supplies and other items include medical instruments, non-contact infrared thermometers, medical equipments, sanitizers, disinfectants and medicine. In addition, three Chinese Public Health experts, mostly epidemiologists, arrived on the 13th of August and followed by another batch of three medical experts who arrived on the 16th of August to join the team of other experts already in the country.  

 

At the delivery of the consignment of the much needed aid, his Excellency the Ambassador of China ZHANG Yue read a message to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressing the deep sympathy and solidarity of the government and people of the People's Republic of China. He emphasized that the PRC and the people of Liberia stand together in this crisis and in furthering the good and friendly relations that already exist between our two nations. President Johnson-Sirleaf thanked the Ambassador and the government of the PRC from the bottom of her heart.

 

The President and the Ambassador later visited the isolation clinics in Monrovia for the purpose of seeing first hand those afflicted with the virus.  The Ambassador then promised further aid to fight the disease.

 

It needs to be mentioned that the PRC also delivered similar aid to Sierra Leone and Guinea, the other affected countries.

 

The action of the government and people of the PRC has touched the hearts of all the people of Liberia who are sincerely grateful and feel deeply indebted for the generous and thoughtful gifts.  We will live to remember this gesture of friendship and hope to have occasion, though not in similar circumstances, to repay the kindness.

 

In the main time, however, the virus appears to be spreading.  According to recent count,  525 people are said to have died while 12 others are reported to have recovered from the affliction.  The WHO has reported that close to 2,225 cases have been reported for the affected countries, of these 1, 235 are reported to have died.  The WHO  and Doctors Without Borders went on to say that the virus is spreading at a faster rate than had been believed and that the potential for the spread had been underestimated.  As one measure to stop the spread, WHO advises that the four affected countries screen all departures from international airports, seaports, and land border crossing to prevent the spread of the virus.

 

Some countries, like Kenya, have taken preventive measures such as prohibiting entry and departure of flights from and to the affected countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia.  The Cameroon has closed its border with Nigeria and Ghana  postponing all international conferences to be held there.

 

The Ivory Coast is  stimulating response exercises in case of an outbreak;  South Africa has just announced that it is closing its borders to citizens of the affected countries in West Africa; Senegal has closed its borders to Guinea; and Chad has closed its borders to Nigeria.

 

 

More and more attention is being paid to the potential of the epidemic spreading beyond the borders of the four affected countries.  The United Nations has requested $1.8million as assistance to the affected countries and a senior official of the UN is soon to visit these countries.

 

These concerns of our international partners is  because the Ebola epidemic is going to have socio-economic effects beyond the boundaries of the currently affected countries.  For instance, South Africa tourist trade has suffered a drastic decline recently because of the virus.  People are reluctant to risk coming to Africa even though South Africa is well removed from West Africa.  Last year ten million tourists were reported to have visited South Africa many of them Asians.  This year the number of visitors is drastically reduced because people tend to see Africa as one country rather than a continent made up of countries.

 

There is some talk of developing a vaccine or antigen to defend and protect against the virus respectively.  The efforts are at an early stage, however.  It is expected to take some time to produce substantial quantities of these to make a difference in curbing the spread of the disease - as explorative antidote is being experimentally tested on a couple of patients who return from Liberia to  Atlanta, Georgia, USA.  There is as yet no conclusive observation of the effect of this drug.  However, the two patient doctors have now been released from hospital and fully recovered.

 

Here at home the situation is being followed meticulously and aggressively.  Action is being taken to bring matters under control.  The areas reported to be most affected by the virus are in the northern part of the country, in Lofa and Nimba counties;  Foya in Lofa, Ganta and Sanniquielle in Nimba.

 

The awareness campaign is being waged intensively and more and  more people are beginning to grasp the gravity of the epidemic. They seem to be  understanding for some of the extraordinary measures that have been taken. Unfortunately, however, a group of disgruntled elements chose to attack an isolation facility at West Point in the City of Monrovia.  They looted the facility taking mattresses, beddings, and other fixtures as an expression of their disapproval of locating the facility in that neighborhood.  The attack caused some patients to flee.  Fortunately, the Ministry of Health has, however, reported that those patients who fled have been traced and transferred to the JFK hospital.

 

Clashes with the police erupted when it was announced that the West Point area will be quarantined by some of the inhabitants of the community who woke up to find themselves barricaded by the security personnel.  This clash led to a panic that reached the commercial areas of the city where the stores belonging to Lebanese are mostly located.  The shopkeepers closed their stores for fear of looting.

 

It is difficult to understand why some people will choose to act so recklessly in the face of this momentous challenge.  There are those who are unwilling to accept the existence of the epidemic and would like to make a political issue out of it.  They seem to want to undermine the efforts of the government so as to find reason to blame it for what, one hardly knows.

 

No doubt, there are those who simply out of ignorance show reluctant to abide by the restriction imposed.  With these  I sympathize but even they must be brought to realize the national danger posed by the virus.

 

We need to let the entertainment/video club places take the danger seriously by avoiding large gatherings particularly during the season of the Premier football League in London. Incidentally, a curfew has been imposed between 9 P.M. and 6 A.M.  to make sure that the lawlessness and callous disregard of public safety witness at West Point isolation center is not repeated.  This will also take care of the problem of the large gatherings at the video clubs.

 

The imposition of a curfew is definitely justified under the circumstances.  It will enable the policing of the country during the night and early hours when the likelihood of the outbreak of disturbances similar to the ones recently observed at West Point is high.

 

Difficult problems call for extraordinary measures. These, it should be remembered, will only last for a brief period -- until the situation is fully brought under control.

 

The decision to quarantine certain localities is equally necessary, if there is reason to believe that the incident or potential for infection is reasonably high in these places.  Stringent security is required for policing these localities.

 

However, steps must also be taken to ensure that the basic daily needs of the residence can be met without their having to leave the vicinity.  Suggested is the setting up of an Ebola Control Administrative Agency with a central office in Monrovia and branch offices in each location that is quarantined.  The function of the branch offices within the quarantined locations will be to order and store when necessary the basic necessities not available in stores or at markets within the localities.  The residents could be asked to order their purchases through the office in their locality.  Where there are stores for market the proprietors should be able to make orders of wares that are demanded by the residents.  All of these requires discipline -- social discipline, without which it will be very difficult to stop the virus.

 

Without intending to be critical of the National Task Force instituted for tackling the problem, it must come up with creative measures for constricting the epidemic but also for easing the hardship such measures may hold.

 

Additionally, we should train health workers both the professional and the volunteers to be more sensitive to the apprehension of those who are being monitored for the virus.  It is to be understood that there is good reason for them to harbor fear.  For the consequence of being ferreted out as potentially infected person is grave -- as the illness is without cure.  People who are believed to be infected tend to perceive this as a death sentence by the hand of fate.  There is therefore a need for greater caution in identifying with those with visible symptoms as well as for assuring them of proper examination, diagnosis, and treatment before isolating those who are found to be infected.  Once they are lumped together with others with the disease, their chances of survival are significantly low.  All must be done to build confidence in their treatment and recovery.

 

It will help to organize a community response at the county level.  Groups of trained volunteers should be deployed by the county authorities to monitor dwellings, yards, and surrounding areas for any signs of illness or visible symptoms and to report anything unusual to a central location for evaluation and response.

 

Furthermore, considering the fears of people about locating isolation facilities in their communities, as happened at West Point, it is advisable to conduct rigorous awareness sessions about the disease - what it is, how it is contracted and  communicated.  It will help to let people know that the virus is not air-borne and that the likelihood of catching it without close personal contact is zero.

 

However, as may have already been said there is a need for stringent security measures to protect those isolated as well as the nearby inhabitants.  People need to be assured of their safety from infection so long as they heed instructions for avoiding personal contact.

 

One major problem, in an effort to stem the spread of the virus is the absence of a precise count of those infected - where, when, and how many.   We need to develop regular statistical report of how many people are infected, how many have died as a result, and how many have survived the episode of their illness.  This kind of information will help us plan better about how to tackle the problem, bring relief as well as build our confidence in the ability of the authority to contain the problem.

 

Finally, after all that is happening we must be grateful to our Chinese friends for urgently delivering a consignment of epidemic preventive materials conducive to contain the Ebola virus and our other international partners for their continuous support and assistance, as well as health workers for their selfless devotion to duty.

 

Let us now unite as a people, whatever our differences to wage a relentless war on this epidemic.