COVID-19 is in Liberia. There have been over 220 confirmed cases, but the actual case count is likely far higher. Community transmission has been established, and the country is under social distancing and lockdown orders.
Liberia is one of the poorer countries in West Africa. It has a weak health system that even in normal times struggles to provide health care to ordinary Liberians. But one important thing is distinguishing Liberia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic: the legacy of Ebola.
Liberia was the country hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak in 2013. Over 4,800 thousand people died and the health system was quickly overwhelmed. So, when news of a new coronavirus reached Libera, the government responded swiftly. Systems set up to contain infectious diseases like Ebola were harnessed to confront the coronavirus. This includes rapid response teams of contact tracers, border controls, and other measures that helped Liberia overcome Ebola. Communities also took matters into their own hands, encouraging social distancing and setting up hand-washing stations.
One of the leaders of Liberia’s response to COVID-19 is Dr. Mosoka P Fallah. He is an infectious disease and public health expert and is the Director General National Public Health Institute of Liberia.
Dr. Fallah was a key player in Liberia’s successful suppression of Ebola in 2014, for which he was named as one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year. Dr. Fallah explains how his experience with Ebola is very much informing how both government and society approach COVID-19. As he explains, his key focus is on ramping up testing. Liberia would have the capacity to administer rapid response tests all over the country, but because of supply chain problems, it lacks one key component of a rapid diagnostic system. Meanwhile, the measures that communities have taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 need broader support in order to be sustainable.
Even though Liberia (and Liberians) took relatively swift action to contain COVID-19, the situation is extremely tenuous at the moment. As in other African countries, an outbreak of the kind that happened in Europe and the United States, could quickly overwhelm the health system and be exceedingly devastating.
If you have 20 minutes and want to understand how Liberia is confronting the coronavirus, have a listen.