The nonchalant attitude of government health officials in Liberia has helped the spread of Ebola in the country, writes Samuka V. Konneh, a journalist, based in Monrovia.
For the second time in less than two months, two persons have died in a single family, allegedly, from the killer Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the Gardnersville area of Monrovia.
A month ago, a man affectionately called KK lost his sister and then his mother to the virus. The sister worked at the Swaray Clinic in Monrovia and was among four nurses that contracted and died from the virus at work.
Over the weekend, KK lost his pregnant wife and a teenage daughter and he too is currently sick. Though there was no medical examination before the deaths of the wife and daughter, they were the ones who took care of the first set of two persons that died from the virus. The mother got affected when she cared for the corpse of her nurse daughter.
Four down already but more members, even distant relatives of this New Georgia community family and people of the larger Mandingo and Muslim communities are feared to be at high risk of contracting the virus because KK, an alleged carrier, is roaming about unrestrained.
After several failed attempts to call in the Ebola Taskforce set up by the Liberian government, officers of the Liberia National Police and health workers arrived at the New Georgia Mosque to seize the suspected Ebola-corpses that were being washed and prayed over. Instead of two, only the wife’s corpse was discovered and taken away by the police and health workers – thanks to family members whom confirmed reports say buried the daughter overnight at an undisclosed location.
Although KK admits he is sick, he denies suffering from Ebola disease – same denial people say he had held during the times he lost his families. “I am sick. I went to the hospital and they told me I have typhoid and I am taking typhoid treatment at a clinic in Jamaica Road,” KK told a friend via mobile phone. Though he did not indicate the particular clinic he is taking treatment, staffers at the main clinic on the Jamaica Road denied treating KK for whatever sickness.
Alieu Konneh is the administrator at the Al-Hilal Medical Center, commonly known as the Muslim Clinic. According o him, at no time did his clinic treat KK or any of his family members. However, he admitted talking to a pharmacist in the same vicinity, just around the Boatswain High School, who treated KK’s deceased-wife with bare hands. “No, we never treated anybody from that family. His wife was taking treatment at one pharmacy around here. I spoke with the guy in that pharmacy, he told me ‘that he referred them to a bigger hospital since her condition was not improving. I think they went to Copper’s Clinic,” Mr. Konneh said in an interview.
For KK, there is no reason to report himself. “What are the people saying? I don’t have Ebola. I have typhoid and I am taking treatment. I am not going anywhere,” he told another friend who spoke with him on phone who was encouraging him to report himself to health workers.
Abdullai Mohammed Keita was around when health workers came over for the corpses in the mosque but even he is ignorant about the danger which the corpse of an infected person poses.
“Our problem is not with those that have died already. Our problem is with the husband who is sick, and we understand from the same Ebola virus disease that killed his family. He is still passing among us – infecting all of us. We are at huge risk here, especially considering the kind of community we have. What more does this man want to know about Ebola and the facts surrounding recent deaths in his family before he stops doubting and denying this killer-disease? He is infecting and killing us. Four of your members of the same family can’t just die from malaria, you are sick and other people around you are sick. This is no malaria. Why not report yourself. This is wickedness,” he told this writer.
At the moment, there is indication that more people might be at risk of Ebola infection. Apart from KK’s mother who contracted the virus from her daughter while caring for her, KK’s teenage daughter is said to have contracted the virus while staying with her deceased grandmother. Both KK and his deceased wife are said to have contracted the virus during the same person-to-person contacts – although there is no authentic information on the sequence of contraction and infection.
Reports indicate that KK’s daughter was buried without the knowledge of many people and circumstances surrounding the burial remain sketchy. However, there is no doubt about a few people getting involved with the process. This means people involved with the burial might be possible Ebola-carriers. Also, his wife was taken to the New Georgia mosques where scores of Muslims prayed over the body for burial. Although the corpse was not washed by the group, it was transported from one point to another – whether from a hospital or a home before reaching the mosque. Since the body was lifted and carried by people, there is no doubt people might have infected each other.
One person put it squarely: “It was not machine that brought the body here. They were people and that means those who touched this body are infected. Moreover, KK himself was among us here today. He is sick yet he moves among us like there is nothing wrong with him.”
On social media, comments over reports that an Ebola-suspected corpse was in the open at the New Georgia mosque were many but all pointed toward one direction: “aren’t people aware of the Ebola circumstances these days?”
“People will never learn. ‘Don’t wash dead bodies.’ They will never learn. We have a long way with a virus that can be stopped from spreading provided people follow the instructions.” observed one Benedictus Doctu Yahn on a social media platform.
Charlotte Wonasue is a neighbor to KK’s family and she had this to say: “This (report) is so true because they are my neighbours and we never knew until his sister and mother died and KK is seriously sick.”
She continued: “He is lying because he was the one who held his mother on his back and put her in his car; and he is very sick. I saw him today but when he learned that the community people were calling the Ebola team – that was when he left. The deaths occurred in the New Georgia Oldfield behind Jonathan Paylaylay’s house – the first truck garage. Ask for Mr. Ansu Kromah, you will find the place because they had the feast for KK’s mother in the same area,” she added.
“He is a friend. He needs to come out to go through the due processes to make sure that he is Ebola free or to be treated for his own safety,” Mohammed Segbemadee Konneh, a Liberian resident in Philadelphia said on Facebook.
While the government insists it is deploying every effort and available resource to contain the spread of the virus, many people think its strategies only put more people at risk.
“See what the government is doing. They collect the dead bodies and never care to arrest or even ask for people the deceased might have contacted. This man lost his sister and mother; now his wife and kid are dead. Are there no conscious people to ask for people these dead people might have contacted while they were alive and sick? No! You collect dead bodies and never quarantine their houses, or people they have contacted. These people in turn will go about contacting and infecting other people. This way, there is no way to contain the spread of the virus. Let’s not pretend,” Marie Klay who stood watching the police and health workers take away KK’s wife’s corpse, said in frustration.
During similar incidents at the St. Tolbert Estate Junction on Monday where two persons died, people became uneasy because health workers only took away the dead bodies when in fact they were told that other people in the same house were sick and manifesting symptoms of Ebola.
“They just took the dead bodies, threw them in the car and then pulled off. Nothing more! So, the government is deliberately allowing more people to carry the virus to infect other people. See what Nigeria is doing just because of one Ebola death,” Marcus Sheriff of Stephen Tolbert noted.
In Nigeria, 177 primary and secondary contacts have been placed under surveillance or isolation just from one Ebola death. Nigeria’s Heath Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu Monday confirmed the figures. “It has been 22 days since EVD first landed in Nigeria. As at today, 177 primary and secondary contacts of the index case have been placed under surveillance or isolation. 9 developed EVD, bringing the total number of cases in Nigeria to 10. Of these 10, 2 have died (the Liberian American and the Nigerian nurse) while 8 are alive and currently on treatment,” Prof. Chukwu is quoted by the Vanguard newspaper.
In Liberia, where there are more than 190 confirmed Ebola deaths, report of isolating contacts is rare. The first question asked by emergency responders is “is the person dead?” This, citizens believe, puts more concern on the dead than the living. “If you just talk of sick people and not dead body, no one cares for your call,” a relative of a dying lady said.