By Dougbeh Chris Nyan, M.D.
September 17, 2014
Dougbeh Chris Nyan, M.D.
President Obama and Mrs. & Dr. Brantly
Members of the House Subcomittee on Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global
Human Rights, and International Organizations Distinguished Panelists, Specifically Dr. Kent Brantly Member of the 4th Estate, Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to thank the organizers of this hearing for the invitation extended the Diaspora Liberia Emergency Response Task Force on the Ebola Crisis to testify on the situation of the current Ebola epidemic in Liberia and the Sub region. We in the Diaspora Liberia Task Force believe that through this medium, US policy makers will have the opportunity of hearing about the Ebola outbreak from a Liberia perspective for the first time. The Diaspora Task Force is an umbrella organization which conglomerates Liberian health care professional organizations, community organizations, and individuals of various professional expertise (medical doctors, nurse, public health practitioners, pharmacists, biomedical research scientists and engineers, journalists, medical psychologists, etc. etc).
From the inception of its nationhood in 1847, Liberia has always maintained a special link to the United States of America and have always played a major role on the world stage. Also, Liberia was always a trusted cold-war ally of the United States. Cognizant of this relationship, Liberians have always turned to the United States for rescue in times of problems, be it economic, social, or political. Today, Liberia along with countries of the Sub region finds itself in a situation that is occasioned by the current Ebola outbreak. This epidemic is dissipating lives, breaking up families, as well as stigmatizing and traumatizing the country and its people.
It is no secret that the Liberian health care system completely collapsed under the pressure of the Ebola outbreak, while also the Liberian leadership and health authorities have demonstrated an incapability of dealing with the outbreak. Most hospitals are still closed due to the lack of basic medical supplies; health care workers lack the necessary protective equipment. Although, there have been massive in-pour of medical support and supplies from countries of the global communities like China and India, the government has yet to put in place a logistic and distribution mechanism to have these materials delivered to the intended clinics and hospitals. There is also the issue of mistrust and confidence crisis between the citizens and government authorities due to the history of corruption in government, lack of transparency, and a total breach of the people’s confidence. The appointment of unqualified personnel (non-medical personnel) as spokespersons or to lead the government’s fight against the Ebola outbreak has led to wrong decisions by government that grossly contradict public health disease control and prevention measures. Also, the unprofessional utterances from some non-medical government officials have engendering wide scale disbelief in the general population that the Ebola virus is real. Additional challenges include the lack of trained medical personnel in specialized areas of epidemiological/infectious disease control. On the side of the Diaspora efforts, coordination of logistics across the US has been difficult due to lack of financial resources; reduction of air flights to Liberia and lack of clear policy on duty free process for Ebola equipment and supplies have hampered anti-Ebola efforts from the Diaspora community. These are among the few examples of the looming challenges in the fight against the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.
Notwithstanding, Diaspora Liberians have since embarked on massive mobilization of medical supplies and materials as well as food, and continue to send these items to Liberia on a revolving basis. Partnering with other organizations and
foundations, the Diaspora Liberia Emergency Response Task Force on the Ebola Crisis recently airlifted about 4000 lbs of medical supplies to Liberia on August 27, 2014, set up its own distribution mechanism (independent of government) and delivered to health care facilities serving impoverished communities (e.g. the Star of the Sea Clinic in West Point, Monrovia) by utilizing organized community involvement.
It is important to note that Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were ravaged by civil wars which damaged the little infrastructure that these countries had. Yet, at the onset of providing aid to the region, there were some miscalculations on the part of the international community:
1. First, the international community should have had the inclination that these three Mano River Union countries (of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia) did not have the professional and technical capacity to control the outbreak of the Ebola virus, a WHO classified Risk Group 4 (or Biosafety Level-4) virus;
2. Second, the international community failed to understand the cultural and traditional family ties that exist among the people living in the common geographic region that connects Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. In that geographic triangle, reside common ethnic groups (e.g. the Kissi and Mandigo) that cannot be separated by any political or colonial boundaries.
3. Third, the response of the international community was seemingly uncoordinated: after looking on for a while, the French government quickly went in with scientists, doctors, and medical supplies to help Guinea; then the British government followed suit, helping Sierra Leone; Liberia was left alone for a long while, left only to the mercy of Samaritan’s Purse and Doctors Without Borders (MSF). As if Britain and France were saying to Liberia…..well Liberia, you have got America; let America come to your aid. True to this in the last several days, the US government has begun taking significant steps towards helping Liberia fight the Ebola outbreak.
The WHO has since declared the Ebola outbreak as a humanitarian crisis and called for a coordinated response. In this regards, the Diaspora Liberia Emergency Response Task Force on the Ebola Crisis calls for the following:
1. That Britain, France, and the United States create a triangular coordination of their assistance to the region (for Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria);
2. That the international community (mainly the WHO and the US) should immediately take over the health care system of Liberia in order to resuscitate it with capacity building;
3. That the fight against Ebola be conducted through a community-based approach and community empowerment through non-governmental institutions such as civic society groups, the churches and community organizations who have demonstrated competence and experience in service delivery in the past (e.g. the Catholic Church and the Diaspora Task Force, and the civic society group that have already organized under one umbrella called CSAE in Liberia); these will be viable partners for US government and international donors;
4. That the US government actively and practically supports the proposals of the Diaspora Liberia Emergency Response Task Force for the establishment of a National Institute for Disease Control and Prevention in Liberia to conduct disease surveillance and prevent future outbreak of Ebola and other related diseases, and
5. Establish a West African Institute for Disease Control and Prevention so as to create a network of infectious disease professionals in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone to conduct disease surveillance and prevent future outbreak of Ebola and other related diseases.
6. That the US government or its aid agency provide assistance for the Diaspora Liberian, Guinean, and Sierra Leonean initiatives aim at sending Diaspora health care professionals (doctors, nurses, CNAs, public health practitioners, ect.) to their respective countries on a 6 weeks rotational basis;
7. That the United States government increase its civilian medical expertise by about 1000 in Liberia and the region through the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA);
On this note, we like to thank the government of the United States of America and the Obama administration for the concrete steps it is taking in the fight
against the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.
Thank you very much for the opportunity!