SANNIQUELLIE, Nimba – Following reports of an Ebola outbreak in neighboring Guinea, the Nimba County Health Team says it has begun to strengthen surveillance in communities bordering Guinea to prevent a spillover of the disease.
On Sunday, February 14, Guinean health authorities declared an Ebola epidemic in N’Zérékoré prefecture, a region bordering the northern end of Nimba, after three deaths were confirmed as Ebola cases.
The news of the re-emergence of Ebola in Guinea has caused concern in Nimba, as Guinea was the source of the worst Ebola outbreak in history – that 2014-2016 outbreak killed 11,310 persons in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
Many have been calling on community radio stations in Nimba, expressing their fears that the virus would soon cross over to Liberia due to porous borders.
Seeking to reassure the public, Nimba’s county health officer, Dr. Nettie Joe, appeared on the radio to clarify that Ebola has not been detected in Nimba. She noted that her team had commenced rigorous awareness about the virus and strengthened surveillance in communities bordering Guinea to prevent an outbreak of the disease in Nimba and Liberia. She said health authorities were partnering with local authorities in border communities to report anyone crossing over from Guinea to Liberia at informal border points.
These efforts are meant to detect the virus at the early stage, should there be an outbreak, she said.
“We want to find a strategy to prevent Ebola from coming to Liberia, especially Nimba,” Joe said. “And if, by mistake, we have a case coming to Nimba, early detection is the way. Because once you find a case sooner, you are able to control it and reduce the transmission.”
The county health officer noted that in the past outbreak, people attempted to flee from the outbreak to relatives who lived across the border only to fall sick a few days later.
“Since we don’t know who is who, we are calling on them to report strangers to us for to observe them so as to prevent the spread of Ebola in Liberia,” she added.
Joining Joe on the radio show was Tilekpeh Weh-Johnson, surveillance officer for Nimba, who said there was a likelihood that the virus could cross over to Liberia because of its proximity to Guinea. He called on all Liberians to regularly wash their hands, wear nose masks, s and call health authorities in case of a sick person in the community.
“Stop the doubting that the government wants to make money and so they are lying about the existence and danger of both COVID-19 and Ebola,” he added.
Weh-Johnson also warned Liberians against visiting drug stores and traditional healers as a first option when sick. Instead, he urged them to visit health facilities.
Meanwhile, the Liberia Immigration Service’s detachment in Nimba says it is partnering with the Nimba County Health Team to strengthen border security, particularly at illegal entry points.
The deputy commander for administration, Joshua S. Laiyee, told The Bush Chicken on Monday in Sanniquellie that following a stakeholders’ meeting with the County Health Team, the Immigration Service had embarked on engagements with local chiefs in border communities to raise awareness about the existence of Ebola in neighboring Guinea.
Laiyee detailed the difficulty his agency finds in monitoring border points, as “people in border communities in both countries are inter-related and so it is difficult to identify those traveling from Guinea to Liberia.” He noted that his team would depend on local chiefs to aid in reporting illegal travelers.
At the national level, the government has announced that the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia has dispatched a team of epidemiologists to counties bordering Guinea.
“The epidemiologists are expected to support the county health teams of Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Bong, Lofa, and Nimba counties,” the press release from the Ministry of Information noted.
Featured photo courtesy of UNMIL/Emmanuel Tobey