Darkest, Longest & Most Terrifying 21 days: my 2014-EVD reflections

I will complete my 14-day “self isolation” on tomorrow, Monday, March 30. As I do so, I am constrained to reflect on my 21-day “quarantine” in 2014 during the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). I have noticed the difference between the 21-day quarantine and the 14-day isolation: and it is not the 7 days difference. It is also not the geography of where the quarantine or isolation took place.

On that faithful Friday morning (July 25, 2014), I woke up around 5 am to check my phone and then later at 6 am to get ready for work. At 5 am when I checked my phone, I saw a missed call from my friend, PO Sawyer, with whom I had spoken around 11 pm that Thursday night. When I tried to return the call, his phone was off. I thought to myself, he must be on the flight to Monrovia as he had told me during our Thursday night’s call.

But then at 6 am, my boss, AMK, called me to inform me that our Ambassador from Nigeria had just called to inform him that PO Sawyer didn’t make it. I was in totally disbelief because the PO Sawyer that I spoke with that Thursday night didn’t sound like someone that was dying from EVD. The news of PO’s death was unbelievable because given everything we had been told about the EVD and how it treated and killed people, PO’s death was different. (I have witnessed the movie called 93-days and in another essay, I will give my view on what I think happened to PO. However, may his soul rest in peace while his memories live with us, forever.)

With the devastating news that we had just received, I still decided to go to the office and compare notes with other colleagues. AMK had already called the Minister of Health who send someone to speak with the staff at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. It was Thomas Nagbe, a very smart young man, who came to the MFDP to explain to us what our options and next course of actions would be.

Thomas asked a question about all those who had contact with PO before his departure for Nigeria. I was the first to put my hand up because I always had contact with PO. He was my best friend. Once I did, other staff took the courage to place their names on the list. And then Thomas informed us that we would have to do 21-day self quarantine. Boy old boy, it turned out to be very dark, long, and terrifying 21 days.

First thing, we didn’t know from whence to start counting. PO left Monrovia on the morning of July 20 (Sunday). On Friday, July 18, PO Sawyer, Dtweah, and some other colleagues had gone to the office to see me but I wasn’t there and had no plan of returning for the rest of the day. Dtweah, though he and PO were in the office, never interacted with him. So I didn’t see them that day. However, I had seen PO Sawyer on Thursday, July 10 in Buchanan when I went there to attend an ArcelorMittal board’s meeting. This was a day or two after his sister (the person he is presumed to have contracted the EVD from) had passed away. As usual, I did shake his hands and interact with him. And then later in the week, around July 14 or 15, PO did stop at the office to see me as I had some assignment that I wanted him to assist with. I have no reason to believe that we didn’t shake hands.

Based on the scattered plots of the days between July 10 and July 15, I didn’t know where to begin my 21-day quarantine. At that point, the most pronounced date was July 25th, the PO Sawyer passed away. Do we start counting from July 25th (the day he passed on) or July 20th (the day he left Monrovia)?

Once we received the medical advice from Thomas Nagbe, I proceeded to my residence to begin my self-quarantine. Counting from Sunday, July 20 to Sunday, August 9, those 21 days were the longest and darkest that I have ever experienced in my life.

During this period, I bought about 3 thermometers; several dozen ORS; different types of malaria pills; and host of drugs and medications. I wanted 3 thermometers so that I would be able to compare the readings or just in case there was any factory malfunction, I would be able to rely on the others.

I took my body temperature nearly every 15 minutes. The nights appeared to consist of 26 hours. I lost all appetite and was unable to eat for days. In fact, many days, I gave up and thought to myself, just go into the treatment center. I think I am infected. I think the sooner that I go in, the better my chances of survival will be. Many nights I would lay awake even after taking several different types of sleeping pills. It seems like the sleeping pills were intended to keep me awake.

If I am able to stood, I think then I have the virus. If I go to the bathroom too much, I think I have the virus. Every moment I think that my temperature is too high but when I take the thermometer and measure my temperature, the reading is normal. I want to think that the thermometer is broken because I can feel that I am running very high temperature. I had three so I would use all at once.

Those 21 days in 2014, I will never forget. I can compare that to going to hell and returning. Those days were very terrifying. But I had a friend, Amadu Neckles (MC) who had a vacation planned with his wife and son to travel to US but he decided that he would stay with me in Liberia until the 21 days were over before he traveled. His wife and son went ahead and he stayed with me. I remain grateful to him. He demonstrated that he is a true friend and brother. He visited me nearly every day and tried to cheer me up even though my spirit was dead.

On the other hand, I had some folks that I thought were friends because we referred to one another as “comrades” who inbox me to find out if I was dead. It was unbelievable that some comrades were wising me death. I have still have the messages in my messenger inbox.

With all of these things going on, AMK would call and request that we meet at the Royal Hotel to discuss the possibility of negotiating with the National Legislature for emergency spending power since the 2014/2015 National Budget had not being approved and the Government needed to combat the EVD. It was the call to national duty: that in spite of having no life in me, I had to join him in meeting with Representative Nuquay and Senator Gaye to discuss the possibility of giving the President emergency spending power for the purpose of setting up the National Ebola Response Fund. The plan was that if we moved our own US$5 million into an account to begin the process of combating the epidemic, then partners might see the need to scale up their support.

After that meeting with the legislators, when AMK saw my “lifeless” body, he decided that we will only work remotely until the quarantine was over.

Immediately after those dark, long and terrifying 21 days, we began meeting at the Ministry of Health to craft the response to the epidemic and also the economic recovery plan. Those efforts started around August 10, 2014 and with the help of God, we barreled through that crisis and we are here today. And so doing a 14-day isolation which ends tomorrow hasn’t been too difficult because I did 21-day under very terrifying and traumatic circumstances.

Why COVID-19 is more Complicated for countries in our neck-of-the woods than EVD

In 2014 when Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were hit by the EVD, it was a blessing that we got the attention of the world. I remember when consultants and media experts would whisper to us that what we needed was the “CNN effect” and then the world would pay attention. It seems that we garnered more than the “CNN effect” and the world came to our rescue.

It is also apparent that the leader of the “free world” at that time had a different worldview and therefore decided that he would be proactive and engaged in curbing the epidemic in the West African region because failure to do that could potentially see the EVD on his shores. Many world leaders then shared similar perspectives and therefore converged on West Africa and fought the ‘virus’ there. When we consider what is obtaining today and the opportunities that were missed to have tackled the COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, the 2014 decision by the leader of the free world looks like the best gift of God to mankind.

Given today’s situation, it seems that countries in our neck-of-the-woods will not be able to benefit from the “CNN effect” and may not see the world coming to their rescue as everyone is dealing with this situation his own back yard. I don’t think the WHO (World Health Organization) will have the financial means to assist poor countries because those who usually donate are themselves struggling to deal with the virus.

It seems that there will be no help coming from anywhere: sooner or later. It means that every country has to fight for its own survival. There is no way any country will feel more sorry for another country than itself. Everyone is trying to ensure that her citizens are safe from the devastating impact of this virus.

What is more terrifying is that the best health care systems in the world are crumbling under the weight of COVID-19. The US, the richest country in the world, is claiming that its healthcare system has been overwhelmed by the COVID-19. Some of the best hospitals in Italy are overwhelmed.

As we were challenged during EVD in 2014, it is becoming apparent that no health care delivery system, the world over, can ever be adequately prepared for such epidemic or pandemic. Like in our neck-of-the-woods were health professionals got infected because of the lack of PPE, the same exact thing is happening in the US. The US is supposed to be the golden standard in health care delivery and it is in the same exact position as we were in 2014.

Considering all of this, it is my strong opinion that we have to take 4-times more drastic measures than what is being obtaining in the US, China and Italy so that we don’t have an outbreak because no one is coming. They are all busy at home. What we learned from EVD is that in a situation where there is no cure, we do everything to curtail transmission. That is why social mobilization and contact tracing are extremely important. We need to watch out for ourselves. We need to listen to the health professionals. We need to listen to the Government.

I understand that the Incident Management Team was meeting today in Liberia. I hope they put together the appropriate protocols, communicate them well, and get the community involved. These viruses are fought and contained at the community level.

May God bless our neck-of-the-woods and keep us safe!

COVID-19: My reflections on EVD and the lessons we learned.

It was exactly in March 2014 that the first case of Ebola was reported in Liberia even though Ebola became dramatic on July 25, 2014 when we lost our friend, PO Sawyer. May his soul RIP while his memories live with us forever.

Ebola taught us many lessons that I hope we have all learned. I can say with much confidence that, after our experience with Ebola, we have some of the finest public health practitioners who can manage epidemics of this proportion.

Dr. Fallah and his team, if given the support and cooperation, can manage the containment of the coronavirus. Dr. Fallah and many others worked on social mobilization and contact tracing which are key to containing a virus that has no immediate cure.

There are also others like Dr. Brown, Chief Medical Officer of the Republic, who ran the treatment center at ELWA and was innovative in putting together a cocktail of medications that saw many walk from that treatment center, fully recovered.

I am also aware of the works done by Abel Newon, Senator Oscar Cooper, Michael George, and countless others in movilizing their communities to be proactive in stopping the spread. There were also many volunteers who worked the phones at GSA under the able leadership of Mary Broh and Dorbor Jallah. Dorbor became a. expert in setting up Forward Logistics Bases (FLB) to move supplies closer to affected areas and people.

Senator Saah Joseph, with a passion for health care, risk his life to get many infected people to treatment centers.

We learned a lot from an epidemiological stand point and I am sure we will be able to contain this virus. We just need to take it seriously and listen to the professionals.

Tolbert Nyesuah and Thomas Nagbe and the rest of the guys were great in setting up the Incident Management Center and providing the epidemiologic data to inform the fight against EVD.

However, here is my worry: the economy. I can argue that we are yet to fully recover from the effect that Ebola had on our economy and if COVID-19 adds to it then it might be decades before we see pre-ebola (2013) economic numbers.

It might be time that we begin to think about measures that will reduce the potential impact of COVID-19 on the economy but more importantly how we will recover after the COVID-19.

I believe that already we are seeing some adverse impact on the economy. There are importers who cannot get supply out of China and this means that we won’t be able to get customs duty and so revenue collection will go down. But imagine what if some of the big companies in Liberia change their investment decisions because they were hit hard by COVID-19, globally? This could be consequential.

But the good news is that there are several smart young economists and usiness people in the country who have learned some valuable lessons during the EVD recovery. We may not have had the opportunity of these lessons and so we started discussing EVD economic recovery in August 2014 after we came from our 21-day quarantine. Yes, we had to quarantine ourselves because we had contact with PO Sawyer and the Ministry of Health professionals advised that we do that.

However, today, we have the benefit of learning from what happened during the EVD and we can take plenty of precautions and measures. It is never too early to start planning and now is the time. If we plan for the worse case and nothing happens, that is fine but failing to plan and then the worse case happens, that would be catastrophic.

And let’s not treat COVID-19 like we did Ebola: I remember that while we were fighting the greatest health challenge in our life time, some of us were plotting an “Ellen Step Down” campaign. Nothing can be more unpatriotic than this. Let’s not do that again. Never!

These are my 2 cents.

And most definitely my thoughts and prayers are with my friend, Nathaniel and his family. I am sure he will beat this.

And let’s not stigmatise people in this fight. That is another dangerous thing that can undermine the fight.

God bless the Motherland

Why Falling is Good – In Life and In Politics

Usually, we are tempted to believe – to our own peril – that when we are on our “high horse,” the many praise singers we see are indeed admirers and “loyal foot soldiers.” We think that we have arrived and everything has changed. We think we are the messiah that they have been waiting for. At least, they make us feel that way. These praise singers will tell us all the nasty things about those who were on the high horse before us. What we fail to realize, and again to our own peril, is that those praise singers who are stepping on our predecessors today have been around for many years and have sang praises to others just as they are doing to us today. The reason why we don’t realize that they will soon be stepping on us as they are on our predecessors is mind boggling. Maybe we even believe that we are better and smarter than all our predecessors put together.

This is why I believe that before we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are better than those who came before us, let’s try falling and see how the praise singers will treat us. My proposition is that, even if you will fake it, FALL. It is important in life and in politics to FALL. By falling, you will have the benefit of being alive to see how deceptive men are. You may be surprised that even those who were singing your praises were probably plotting your FALL. Even if they weren’t part of the plot, you will soon see them run to the new rider of the “high horse” and begin doing what they do best: stepping on your fallen body. Don’t let them do it to your grave.

On the ‘high horse,” people even tell you that you are better than your boss. That it will soon be your time to become President or Minister or whatever else is higher. And if you close your circle to only those careered praise singers, you soon start behaving like there is no bottom or there is no down. For everything that rises, there is a sure but eventual fall. It is the law of gravity. Others were there before you; and others will have to occupy that post and so it goes without saying that you will have to vacate. One day!

But in order that you are balanced and not deceived, try to FALL or fake one just so that you know and understand men. Remember what was done to Jesus, the Christ! One moment ‘they’ sang His praises and the other, ‘they’ chanted that He be crucified. ‘They’ were the same people.

Or you can learn from the FALLs of others and be careful. You should always be aware that we will all get down from the “high horse.” Some of us may slip and fall; others maybe pushed; and still others just by the law of gravity. In any case, ‘they’ will be there to malign us, And people may believe them (not trust them) because they were close to you.

Please take a moment to fake a fall so you can learn…