As the African continent is being praised in its efforts towards the fight against the global pandemic, the Coronavirus Disease or COVID-19, the former Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), Dr. Mosoka Fallah, has been highlighted as one of the key figures in stopping the spread of the pandemic.
According to a latest article released by the Time Magazine, Dr. Mosoka Fallah and other doctors and public health officials in countries that already had experience with outbreaks of other infectious disease sprang into action for early prevention.
The Time Magazine’s article pointed out that Dr. Fallah and a team of Liberian public health officials set up a training program after the WHO announcement at the end of January to help doctors and nurses at regional hospitals recognize the symptoms of COVID-19.
The Magazine recalled that the former NPHIL boss and other doctors and public health officials brought in testing kits and re-instated the hand washing stands that had been ubiquitous during the Ebola outbreak.
The article also points out that the Liberian health expert (Fallah) and his Liberian team ramped up their contact-tracing protocols and established screening points at airports, even before the first case had been identified in the country.
It indicated that the experience meant that when it came to social distancing, many African citizens were already accustomed to the elbow bump, frequent hand washing and the need for mask wearing.
“We had to learn the hard way,” the Liberian public health expert, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, told TIME in March, referring to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the three West African countries that bore the brunt of the 2013-16 Ebola epidemic.
“Ebola knocked us over, but now we know not to underestimate anything; we know how important it is to prepare,” he continued.
Furthermore, Dr. Tom Frieden, who was the Director of the US Center for Disease Control (US CDC) and worked closely with Dr. Fallah, during the 2014/2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, stated in the recent Wall Street Journal that Liberia, hard hit by the Ebola epidemic in 2014, was one of the first countries to start screening for COVID-19 at airports and to adopt other control measures, such as rapid testing, complete contact tracing and quarantine.
It could be recalled that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in Liberia, Dr. Fallah during an appearance before the House of Representatives along with other health officials, told members of that august body that Liberia was far ahead in its prevention mechanism, by setting up testing system at the nation’s international airport, the Roberts International Airport (RIA).
The former NPHIL boss then craved the support of national government through budgetary allotments to key health institutions including the Ministry of Health and NPHIL to boost the already in place prevention mechanism.
Accordingly, Liberia, with strong defense against the disease, through the leadership of Dr. Fallah and with support and partnership with the Ministry of Health, did not record a case until in March of 2020.
Many African countries have poor medical infrastructure, but they also have longstanding experience with infectious disease.
The Time Magazine is not alone in recognizing the role of the Liberian Practitioner, a prestigious American newspaper, Wall Street Journal, has reported Liberia’s extraordinary strides in containing the deadly coronavirus disease otherwise known as COVID-19.
COVID-19, which was announced late 2019, has ravaged the world’s most prosperous economies and laid waste over a million lives across the world, particularly in countries with better health systems.
At the onset, ominous predictions had it that developing countries, including Liberia, would suffer the brunt of COVID’s devastating impact but so far this has not been the case. A few underdeveloped countries are said to have managed the pandemic more responsibly and expertly, leading to lower death rates.
Liberia, which lost over 4,000 lives to Ebola in 2014, is hailed amongst a few countries that are so far successfully managing the COVID-19.
The country’s current death rate is 83 persons and infection is under 2000 while recovery is 1,406—something extolled by international development organizations, such as the USA Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Liberia’s success story has been told by an international outlet, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), which noted in a report that the Government of Liberia “has worked hard to meet humanitarian needs during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
By taking lessons from the Ebola crisis, policy response was prompt, reports the WSJ, which recalled that on March 21, 2020, the government mandated a general lockdown and enforced severe social distancing which was costly in terms of economic slowdown, trade disruptions, and food insecurity.
The International Monetary Fund, along with other partners, provided emergency support during the height of the crisis, the most recent IMF assistance complementing those actions as Liberia accompanies the difficult reform agenda the authorities have been pushing through amid the COVID-19 crisis.
According to the WSJ, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Liberia at a time of pre-existing fragility. The country held elections in 2017, leading to the first democratic transition of power between different political parties since 1944.
Following the inauguration of the new administration in 2018, the United Nations Mission in Liberia, which had been in the country since the peace agreement of 2003, handed over its security responsibilities to the national police and military.
These transitions coincided with the winding down of increased foreign aid after the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak. These events caused a sharp decline in net foreign exchange inflows to the country. This in turn heightened pressure on the Liberian dollar exchange rate and on inflation. To stabilize the economy, the authorities had to make difficult adjustments to an economy with less foreign exchange inflows, which created significant hardship for the Liberian people. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Liberia during this difficult adjustment phase.
Reform efforts at the central bank have focused on rebuilding confidence in the banking sector. In October 2020, the National Legislature approved amendments to the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) Act. With this amendment, the CBL now has more operational autonomy in enhancing the quality and quantity of Liberian banknotes.
The CBL also has a formal mandate to ensure financial stability. With this new mandate, the CBL is committed to strengthening the financial supervisory and regulatory framework and in turn the banking sector that can support post-COVID recovery efforts. Contributed by Emmanuel Weedee-Conway.