“A Society that does not read and comprehend or ignores history is unable to resolve its problems, be them small or big.”
By the Writer
In order to command a grasp of the subject at hand, it would be necessary for us to first define the word “history.” Within the context of this article, “history” is defined as the study of the events of the past, particularly in respect of human affairs. Underscore the words “human affairs/” It is the study of the achievements and failures of the human race. It guides us in our forward match, helps us recognize mistakes made and enables us to learn from those mistakes. It also helps us do the correct things to ensure a better, improved society or country. History is important because it tells us how to evolve; it tells us, for example, what decisions worked in what particular situation during troubling times. It helps us not to repeat the mistakes of the past, including those made by our forefathers, when we are faced with similar situations.
Many of the events happening today are just unfortunately repeats of events that happened many years ago. Why are we not applying the methods used in the past to resolve these challenges? Is it because we do not remember our history lessons? For example, in Liberia, the reasons proffered for the coup d’etat of 1980 were rampant corruption and nepotism. But if one takes a retrospective view, all succeeding governments that arose to the political stage after 1980 have been equally corrupt and nepotistic. The question now is what have we achieved since 1980?
Now coming to the current situation, that is the Coronavirus otherwise referred to as COVID-19 that has killed thousands of people and infected more than 3.3 million people around the world, it seems that we in Liberia are still fooling around even though more than 158 people have been infected and 18 deaths have occurred over the two months as of the date of penning this article and since the Ministry of Health announced the first case in the country.
Originally it was Montserrado County that had an infected case; two months later there are infected cases in seven counties in the country. It seems that we are doing the correct thing to stop the spread. The number of infected people is increasing, and so is the number of deaths. We have not reached the apex (Hopefully our apex is not high). When will we wake up to the challenge and start doing the correct things to protect our citizens from this deadly virus? Before going further, we will give you a brief history of diseases/viruses that ravaged the world.
Bacteria/viruses have been with mankind since creation and mankind has tried to suppress the spread of diseases cause by these bacteria/viruses by the human body developing natural immune system or developing drugs and vaccines when taken they make the human body to develop immunity, but at times, bacteria or virus mutate and develop resistance. When this happens, it results into a massive loss of lives. The first well documented cases were in China in 3,000 BC; this is about 5,000 years ago. At that time, two villages/towns (present day Hamin Mongha and Maiozigou) inhabitants were wiped out. These people were sacrificed to prevent the spread of the disease to people in other towns and villages as was done in the Holy Book with people who were infected with Leprosy.
Over the past 5,000 years, there had been over 20 diseases that have ravaged humanity, in many cases changing the course of human history and at times signaling the end of entire civilizations. The most deadly were Antonnie Plague (Rome-165 AD, which killed 5 million people, Plague Justinian (Turkey-541 AD) killed 30 million people, Black Death (London-1547-1551) killed 200 million people, Smallpox (Europe-1520 ) 56 million people, Cocoliztli (Mexico 1545) killed 15 million people, Third Plague-Cholera (Europe-1855) killed 12 million people and the Spanish Flu (Spain-1918) killed 40 million people.
It is interesting to note that the symptom of most of the diseases that had ravaged the earth is fever, sore throat, fatigue, chill etc. As the bacteria or viruses that cause these diseases mutate over the years, new symptom are added to the old ones. So it is shocking that Covid-19 has the same symptom as the virus causing diseases that ravaged the world.
From the above, the worst was the Black Death. It killed 200 million inhabitants of the earth or about 50% of the earth’s population by the end of 1351, when it was finally brought under control. At the time the global population was estimated at 460 million. Can the Coronavirus or COVID-19 ravage the world as did the Black Death? Nobody knows. But if this continues for the same period as the Black Death, anything is possible (3.3 million confirmed case and over 0.220 million deaths in four months, anything is possible if it continues for four years.
Viruses are inactivated by the immune system of the host, conferring immunity to the host. It has been observed that antibiotics have little effect on viruses, but antiviral drugs have been developed to treat the life-treating infections they cause. Bacteria and viruses which are responsible for most of the diseases that result to epidemics and pandemics are not usually destroyed completely but suppressed or inactivated by the hosts’ immune system or vaccines/drugs developed that develop antibodies or grow the immune system of the host to make the virus inactive for a period of time.
During the period of inactiveness, the bacteria or virus mutates and develops resistance to the drugs or vaccines or even the human immune system. One example of this is the Plasmodium Parasites which cause malaria. Today, there are five species that cause malaria but the mostly deadly are P. Falciparium and V. Virrax. Covid-19 could be a mutated virus of yesteryear. Mankind has been able to contain similar viruses by the following methods:
1. Early case detection (testing) and isolation (of infected persons)
2. Contact Tracing of primary contacts and secondary persons that came in contact with infected persons and testing them
3. Social Distancing
The above methods have worked over the ages.
Liberia Stimulus Package (US$25.00 Million)
As the Coronavirus ravage the country, like many countries, the President has proposed a US$25.00 Million Stimulus Package. But unlike other countries, where the Ministry of Finance or Treasury Department worked with the Legislature, the President declared a State of Emergency and wrote the Legislature to recast the 2019/2020 National Budget to identify funds with the view to allocating US$25 million to be used for food and to settle bank loans owed by petty traders. If the president did not ask the legislature in 2019, when he authorized the US$25.00 Million for the Mop-up exercise, why now? Anyway, as is often said, this is Liberia. The President’s letter to the honorable Legislators did not identify the specific budget line(s) the money should come from. The Legislature in return approved the US$25 Million request, but equally, she did not say which budget line(s) the money should come from. Hence in essence, we have no money to pay for the food or settle petty traders’ loans with the commercial banks or credit unions. Let it be known that the National Budget is a Law and until it is amended, it is unlawful to move funds from any budget line item(s). Both the Executive and Legislature are playing a Chess Game to win votes in the mid-term election due in October this year and the Liberian People are the pawns. It is alleged that the 2019/2020 Fiscal Budget has a deficit of US$34.00Million and the Fiscal year ends in 55 days, is it possible to recast a budget that is in deficit? Can the Legislature recast the budget before the end of the Fiscal Year? Or are these politicians playing on the intelligence of the Liberian People. It is now three weeks since the President’s Letter and the passing of the Resolution, No Recasting of the Budget, No funding for Food Assistance and No Payment of the Loan.
Let’s assume there is money and the US$25 Million is found; how much of this amount will be used to purchase food items as by the Resolution? The President’s letter said food items for lockdown counties (Montserrdo, Grand Kru, Nimba and Margibi). But the Resolution passed by the Legislature says all Counties. Now if one considers the population of the country, which now stands at 4.9 million, and considering five persons to a household, this is 980,00 households. Assuming each household gets one bag of 25Kg rice, which costs US$14.00 per bag, this is will cost US$13.72 million. For a family of five, this is enough for three weeks or less. Can government sustain the supply of rice for the duration of the emergency period of sixty days? Just the cost of the rice would be around US$13.72 Million. This excludes the cost of logistics to move the rice to the beneficiaries.
Now let us look at the petty traders’ loans. Did the government investigate or inquire from the commercial banks and credit unions as to how much money the petty traders owe these lending institutions around the country? And did the Legislature equally inquire from these institutions before passing the Resolution that approved the US$25 Million for this exercise? If both the Executive and the Legislature did not inquire from these institutions, how did they arrive at the US$25 million amount? We hope this not a political game by both parties.
Another concern is procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and training for the health workers who are the first respondents to the COVID-19 cases. By now all referral hospitals in the country, including public and private should have had these PPEs and the staff trained. It has been said that 15% of the infected people are health workers (doctors, laboratory technicians, physicians’ assistants and nurses), some of whom have died. Will portion of the US$25 Million be used to purchase the PPEs and train health workers? It is alleged that the citizens in Saclapela refused for any suspected Covid-19 patient to be attended to at hospital/Health centers because of the lack of PPE and training.
Testing is one method that has worked and is working in other countries around the world. When people are tested, the infected people are isolated and treated. Isolation breaks the transmission of the virus, hence preventing the spread. If the government is interested in preventing the spread of the virus, money should be allocated for testing and isolation centers (one center in each county) and train tracing personnel in each county.
Can some of the allocation from this US$25 Million be made for procurement of testing equipment and reagents, as well as the establishment of testing centers at referral hospitals in the country? The number of confirmed cases is low because we are not doing enough testing, and this is very dangerous. When it started, it was only found in Montserrdo and after two months, the virus has spread to six counties.
Last, the social distancing recommended by the government/Ministry of Health is not being observed, particularly at the banks and market places. The security should be concentrated at these areas to enforce the social distancing. Motorcyclists are also not observing the social distancing.
Face Masks and PPE
We recommend that the Ministry of Health mobilize the tailors in country to produce PPE and Face Masks. This will give them additional income. We do have very creative tailors in country. Identify the materials and they produce them in mass. Engage tailors in the counties for this exercise.
There are too many questions and our leaders need to know that the lives of the citizens hang in the balance and they are waiting for rescue. Disappointing them is dangerous. This should be avoided at all costs. It is no gainsay to say that the infections rate in Liberia is climbing and until we reach the peak, we have a lot of work to do; we need planners and strategists to plan our actions. We need to flatten the curve.
A reflective knowledge of applicable strategies in remedying such related diseases/viruses of the past will be of a tremendous advantage. Now is the time to act with wisdom, being armed with a valuable retrospective knowledge of history about such incidents so as to eschew any expensive mistakes that could endanger the lives of the populace which the government claims to defend and protect. It has been proven abundantly in history that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. Prudence, accountability, transparency and calculated approaches are salient in the premises.
By Hun-Bu Tulay