- As COVID-19 Wreaks Havoc
By: R. Joyclyn Wea
The nation’s premier referral hospital, the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial Medical Center, like many other medical facilities in the country, lack the basic logistics to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that began wreaking havoc recent, medical authorities have said. According to them, the issues of ventilators, Oxygen bottle and beds for admitting patients have become scarce due to high demand.
A highly respected Physician Assistant (PA) at JFK, who begged not to be named, told this reporter in an interview a fortnight ago that the facility is overwhelmed with patients and there are no beds at the moment to accommodate patients who come in their drove daily to seek medical attention.
“We have been heavily challenged since this third wave of the COVID-19 virus. The hospital is faced with several challenges most especially beds for patients; noting that patients are being placed on bed two-two. I don’t even want to talk about other medical constraints,” she said.
The hospital is now turning away patients, some of whom come under emergency conditions, due to the logistical and capacity challenge at the center, the experienced PA, who has served at the facility for many years, noted. “The situation is becoming grave and there is a need for urgent attention from the government and its partners,” she said.
Latest statistics from the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL) shows that 1976 active cases were recorded in less than a month—the highest infection rate since the outbreak in March last year. Liberia has a total of 4994 confirmed cases and 135 deaths as of July 8, 2021.
About two weeks ago the country had less than three hundred cases, but the cases are fast increasing daily—a situation is now having a negative trend on the already stressed health system.
JFK’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jerry Brown, had initially shed lights on the precarious situation the facility is faced with at a time when the country is experiencing surge in COVID-19 cases.
“We currently have a bed capacity of around 250 to 300, in the memorial hospital and around 150 to 200 at the maternity center. Sadly, we are receinving more people on a daily basis than we can take in,” Brown said at a press conference recently.
“JFK is now a source of primary care even though the hospital was meant to serve as a tertiary referral health care. This is where everybody wants to come now because they cannot get these services out there. Sadly, we too are overwhelmed now,” Dr. Jerry Brown said.
Patients are being turned away from the nation’s most recognized hospital due to the lack of ventilators, oxygen and hospital beds while the country records dozens of new coronavirus cases each day. “There is a need for urgent help if we are to overcome these challenges,” the Physician Assistant who initially spoke with this reporter noted, adding, “It may be too late if we don’t act now.”
Health Minister, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, two weeks pictured a gloomy outlook of the situation in the country at a cabinet meeting revealing to colleagues that hospital are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients due to the exponential increase, on a daily basis, ofcases of the new variant over the last two weeks.
“The hospitals are currently full with people experiencing breathing difficulties. It is alarming to note that since the third wave began, there has been a surge in the number of cases. As we speak, public hospitals are full of patients and there are no beds for people who have covid-19 infections,” the Minister said.
Many believe that the minister’s statements are clear indications that the new coronavirus variant, which surfaced in the country weeks ago, appears to be strengthening its grips on the country—exacerbated the volatile state of the already hugely challenged health sector.
NPHIL former Director General, Dr. Tolbert Nyenswah said the issue of beds should have been one of the key things to be considered by NPHIL who is the lead in the response against the virus.
Dr. Nyenswah was the lead person\Focal Person for the national response team during the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014 through 2016 when the country was officially declared Ebola free. Many considered NPHL, where he was relieved of his position upon the ascendency of the Coalition for Democratic Change government of George Weah, as his brainchild.
According to Cllr. Nyensuah, as was done during the Ebola era, there should have been tank setup in strategic areas to serve as backup to accommodatemore patients in the event where hospitals are full and there are no beds.
However, amid the logistical and financial constraints the health sector is enduring, a donation of US$7.5K made by Senator, Abraham Darius Dillon, to the Montserrado County Health Team was rejected.
The opposition Senator said the fund was meant to help in the fight against the coronavirus disease, but his gesture was rejected by the County team on the instruction of the Health Minister.
The action of the minister and the team has since been met with barrage of criticisms.
Former ruling party Secretary General, Mohammed Ali, blasted the minister for the action, noting that every penny is need now to help fight the outbreak.
Ali wrote “Hospitals are filled, no more beds and hence patients are being rejected. Some are dying right outside the hospitals because they can’t get treatment. Yet our Government has instructed the Montserrado County Health Team to reject a needed US$7.5K that could have procured beds and probably other materials simply because it was donated by Abe Darius Dillon. So our people lives are now subjected to petit politicking.”
Help So Close But Yet Far Away
Amid the lack of supplies at hospitals, the Prince Ibrahima and Isabella Freedom Foundation (PIIFF), a United States based Liberian Charity, has brought about US$5 million worth of relief medical supplies in the country but are stuck at the Freeport of Monrovia.
The supplies held at the Freeport of Monrovia due to accumulated storage and demurrage delayed fees are basically medical, emergency, fire, transportation. These include ventilators, beds, PPES, oxygen tanks, masks, and fire suits. Others are stretchers, cutting tools for major accidents, defibrillators, , tractors, vehicles, watercrafts, and a 130kva generator among others.
Some of the PPEs at the Freeport of Monrovia awaiting clearance
The head of PIIFF, Dr. Artemus Gaye said to date, the government to whom it regularly donates these items, especially the Liberia National Fire Service has done nothing to foot or help settle the storage.
“We paid USD$24k to clear two containers and we realized it didn’t make sense for us to pay such amount anymore while we donate these things to the very government demanding us to make such payment” Dr. Gaye said.
The group had earlier paid for storage in the USA costing $55 thousand and an extra $USD16k when the 50 ft trailers were towed by the city of Chicago.
In a rather frustrating tone the head of PIIFF disclosed it has been decided that the remaining 6 containers go through the auction process and then “we can pay for them to avoid the high storage and other charges”.
Hospital beds and stretchers
PIIF disclosed that it anticipated the ongoing crisis almost immediately when the COVID crisis struck after its assessment of Liberia’s fragile health and social sectors.
Dr. Gaye expressed optimism about the fate of the items but said the challenge now remains getting the items from the port and getting them to serve the people with a goal of establishing an emergency and disaster training institute near the Roberts-field and building substations in every district in Liberia political sub-divisions so that people have access to these equipment.
From its inception, the charitable organization wasinvolved in the provision of healthcare grant, especially for (malaria, TB, and HIV, under the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led administration when a high power delegation from Illinois, helped secured a USD $40 million from the World Health Organization.
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Right(JHR),through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with Front Page Africa.