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Special Feature

Liberia – Mitigating Socioeconomic Impact of COVID-19

By Francis Nyepon

A coronavirus recession in Liberia is inevitable. COVID-19 commonly known as the coronavirus could lay siege and overwhelm critical socioeconomic sectors in the country. The pandemic poses an existential threat to public health as much as an unprecedented socioeconomic danger to every Liberian. Urgent actions desperately need to be taken to mitigate the severe impact of the pandemic. Like most other countries in the Global South, Liberia, has gotten a reprieve from COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic ravaged China and now spreading across Europe and the United States. The country’s grace period was over on March 13 when a government official returned from Europe and tested positive for the virus; paired with transmission to others and successive positive testing of visitors to the country. The shock of COVID-19 to the Liberian economy will be enormously dire. Therefore, the spread of the pandemic in Liberia should not be taken lightly because the worst is yet to come. The unprecedented socioeconomic depression of COVID-19 will sooner or later reach deep into the country’s major commodity trade in rubber, iron ore, gold, diamond and raw timber; further dragging down GDP growth and depressing economic performance in public spending, employment, food security, tropical markets, retailing, transportation and supply chain sectors. This will exacerbate livelihood and living conditions to uncontrollable proportions exposing and highlighting the country’s structural inequality, social exclusion, marginalization, wealth imbalances and workforce underdevelopment. It could indeed be far worse than the country’s two bloody civil wars.

The public health and social based intervention deployed by the George Weah-led CDC government may be ineffective and impracticable due to framework and timetable implementation strategy issues. Liberia needs more vehement education with accurate public health information propagation to protect and safeguard families and local communities from the spread of COVID-19. Training of volunteers, religious and traditional leaders, coupled with community and civic organizations on surveillance for COVID-19 case management and infection prevention need to immediately be put into effect by going door-to-door to proactively widen factual public health awareness. It is also critical to explain the importance of social distancing, sheltering-in-place, self-quarantining, and adequate WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) to access safe running water for drinking, cooking, hand-washing with soap and sanitation. Prevention against the spread of COVID-19 is the best way that the George Weah-led CDC government can protect the Liberian people against the spread of COVID-19. Furthermore, the government needs to ensure the availability of ample stockpile of medical and laboratory supplies; including, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, disinfectants for medical waste management and personal protective equipment (PPE) for both healthcare workers and public safety personnel.

The response and action of the George Weah-led CDC government will determine how deep the economic shock is, how long it lasts, and how rapidly the economy bounces back. The pandemic is on a trajectory of uncertainty with the possibility of provoking sweeping slump across the economy with the propensity of producing a vicious downward spiral that could ruthlessly distress every Liberian man woman and child. When the Ebola virus erupted in 2014, out of the reported 11,325 deaths that occurred in the sub-region, over 6,500 innocent souls were Liberians, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Accordingly, the George Weah-led CDC government must now awaken to the enormous threat that COVID-19 poses to Liberia, and formulate and implement innovative policy initiative and structural guidelines to curb the spread of the pandemic. Liberia is one of the least equipped countries in the sub-region to combat COVID-19 on its own due to its weak healthcare delivery system that has completely been abandoned over the past two years.

Certainly, Liberia will face a catastrophe should the COVID-19 outbreak becomes widespread in rural townships and densely populated peri-urban communities. This could very likely lead to the collapse of the CDC government, and it demise will solely be due to inaction and incompetence. Hitherto, a handful of COVID-19 cases have been reported in the country, and while these cases remain extremely low, there is absolutely no place or time for officials to masquerade and exhibit arrogance by patronizing and encouraging privilege, favoritism and corruption, whilst censoring and mistreating poor, underprivileged and vulnerable Liberians. Calming and enlightening the Liberian people on ways to mitigate the socioeconomic shocks of the virus is imperative.

Additionally, health workers in densely populated peri-urban communities and rural townships needs to be educated and trained on best practices in hygiene promotion, regular hand washing with soap, social distancing; shelter in place and self-quarantine to mitigate the spread of the virus. Consequently, tangible preparations to mitigate the inevitable socioeconomic disaster must come from the leadership. The George Weah-led CDC government must utilize and improve the community disease surveillance health systems formulated during the 2014 Ebola virus crisis to defeat the spread of COVID-19 by ensuring extensive and equitably testing, treatment and service delivery across the country. The apex of COVID-19 is on course of ripping through the Liberian economy ruthlessly disrupting critical sectors like, public spending, import-export trade, employment, healthcare system, retail, tourism, remittances, livelihood, consumer spending, food security, smallholder farmers, petty trading, community selling and transportation; all of which could further depress socioeconomic performance by dragging down GDP growth, causing redundancy to uncontrollably swell out of proportion.

COVID-19 will account for the lack of critical supplies in the country’s regional and neighborhood tropical markets. A drag on the supply chain sector will impact livelihoods, consumer goods and the businesses sector causing Liberians to scramble for alternatives that may be extremely challenging. Moreover, the Liberian workforce will indeed feel the excruciating pain of COVID-19. Health workers, smallholder farmers, market-women, merchants, vendors, traders, building trades and construction workers will dangerously run low on finding work, obtaining equipment, supplies and goods. Consequently, the George Weah CDC-led CDC government cannot remain dormant and complaisant. The government must carefully reflect upon the significant impact that COVID-19 could inflict upon the country, not to mention the irregularity and unconventional behavior that could lay siege to livelihood and well-being.

President George Weah needs to formulate and implement policies to reboot the economy. This means, effective and innovative governance on demand with genuineness and all hands on deck to defeat COVID-19. Widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in poor rural and peri-urban communities will progressively speed towards an uncontrollable socioeconomic cataclysm. Consequently, early warning and rapid response systems needs to be established to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Similarly, ample medical equipment, supplies and power to guarantee uninterrupted flow of electricity to hospitals, clinics and community health centers must be provided. Actions undertaken in the West African sub-region and internationally cannot simply be duplicated or blindly followed without streamlining specific benefits to Liberia. Public hand-washing facilities in public markets, transport depots, business districts, institutions, municipal buildings and community centers needs to be constructed in order to flatten the curve and minimize the spread of COVID-19. This includes extensive circulation of information throughout local community to prevent those infected from infecting family members and the community at large. Official policies need to be broadcast in traditional languages and colloquial speech to debunk and keep misinformation from spreading as is customary in Liberia due to the prevalence of illiteracy.

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Liberia needs resiliency to fight the COVID-19 pandemic through a national mobilization effort. There needs to be instructions on ways to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. The George Weah-led CDC government has a wide window to really make a difference in the lives of Liberians and the economy. The government cannot just imitate other societies or blindly follow global directives simply to take advantage of international institutional funding to line the pockets of George Weah and his friends and cronies. If the George Weah-led CDC government wavers in any way-shape-or-form, the opposition should be ready to force the hand of the government whenever an iota of neglect occurs in addressing pertinent issues and concerns of the Liberian people regarding COVID-19. COVID-19 should strengthen and unite all Liberians. The opposition should not allow George Weah to use the virus to tilt the playing field in his favor, especially regarding suppressing critique, evaluation of how the government handles the virus. Moreover, President George Weah should not be allowed politization of COVID-19 through the use of paramilitary force, public rhetoric to intimidate, or songs to deceive, and cheering rallies to give the wrong impression will not suffice for what is yet to come.

Congratulations to all personnel of the Ministry of Health, the National Public Health Institute, and the Chief Medical Officer of Liberia for the excellent job, professionalism and leadership demonstrated during the challenging period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Be a Liberian not because you were born in Liberia but because Liberia was born in you

Francis Nyepon can be reached at fnyepon@aol.com

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