Don’t Treat Fellow Citizen Like Common Criminal -Harrison Karnwea, Others Lament COVID-19 Patient’s Plight

In the wake of official pronouncement from the presidency of Liberia indicating that Liberia’s first Coronavirus case-patient had bypassed the country’s airport health protocols upon landing March 13 aboard SN Brussels 241 airlines, conflicting signals are now emerging that place the embattled, quarantined and suspended head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a rather sympathetic light with the public, The Analyst has gathered.

Before President George M. Weah addressed the nation on March 16 identifying Dr. Nathaniel Blama, head of the EPA, as Liberia’s COVID-19 first known case-patient, many had already expressed concerns about the country’s resilience and preparedness in tackling the pandemic, despite Liberia’s past experience in successfully dealing with the deadly Ebola virus disease.

In the face of these concerns, President Weah officially broke the news to his fellow citizens and residents in a somber mood. “Let me assure you that the Government is taking every precaution and action to protect our borders and ports of entry.  However, in spite of these arrangements, I regret to inform you that Liberia has recorded a confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus. The infected person is Mr. Nathaniel Blama, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, who arrived in Liberia on Brussels Airlines on Friday night, the 13th of March. Along with several other officials of Government traveling on the same flight, Mr. Blama chose not to be quarantined, in keeping with the health protocols that were in place at the airport,” President Weah said, noting that an intensive tracing exercise is underway to identify and test all persons with whom he (Dr. Blama) came into contact.

“Meanwhile, all other persons who traveled on that flight and by-passed the mandatory screening protocols, are being made to report to the health authorities immediately and without any further delay, for testing,” the president declared.

In less than 24 hours after President Weah’s pronouncement which included series of measures to curtail spread of the COVID-19, the EPA boss got the axe amidst clarifications from himself and his communications specialist that he had never bypassed airport health protocols, neither did he refuse to be quarantined.

Public Indignation over Dr. Blama Treatment

As Liberia’s first case-patient now undergoes quarantine while facing indefinite suspension from his post, Liberians have started to register their indignation about Dr. Blama’s plight.

Mr. Joel Kennedy, a Liberian journalist who once served as Director of Communications at the National Elections Commission, is now resident in the United States of America – a superpower that is currently embattled with the COVID-19. This is his take on Dr. Blama’s plight.

“Dr. Nathaniel Blama, I am not too sure if I know you personally. Perhaps I may have interacted with you transitorily in the performance of my duties while in Liberia. However, as a fellow countryman, the humanity in me requires that I pray for your speedy recovery from COVID19.

As a patriotic citizen, I know that you contracted this disease while representing our country on an official duty to Switzerland. You did not go for that gathering with the intent of contracting COVID19 and taking it back home, but that’s what fate does, sometimes. As you go through this very perilous period of your life, I pray that God’s grace be upon you and that you fully recover from this dreadful COVID19. I also pray for God’s grace upon all those you may have come in contact with as well as for the Liberian nation and its people during these very challenging times. I am hopeful that just as we triumphed over the deadly Ebola Virus Disease in 2014, we can also triumph over COVID19. We are a resilient people. And we know that this too…. shall pass,” Kennedy stated on his social media page March 16.

Regarding government’s decision to indefinitely suspend the EPA boss during his period of ailment, Mr. Kennedy thinks the Weah-led government is moving very fast in its handling of the Corona Virus issue involving the EPA boss.

“While it is true that the EPA Boss is the first confirmed carrier of the virus in Liberia, being sentimental about circumstances surrounding what really happened at the RIA and his home and taking decisions in the absence of a full investigation, to me, is not the right way to proceed. We all agree that these are troubling times in Liberia. The EPA Boss is one of us. We need to proceed cautiously,” Kennedy cautioned.

As regards the argument that Dr. Nathaniel Blama refused to adhere to COVID-19 protocols in Liberia, Kennedy says such argument is not only unfounded but baseless.

“Every protocol, especially in national health emergencies should have procedures for escalating complaints involving individuals who decide to flout it. Were his actions immediately reported to his employer or the relevant institution for prompt actions? I had thought that given our experience from the fight against Ebola, Liberia was a model in the fight against contagions. This, unfortunately is not the case,” Kennedy lamented.

Supporting Dr. Blama’s assertion that he did not bypass any airport health protocol, neither did he refuse quarantine, the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), declared yesterday that “case-patient self-reported to the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) on the 15th of March at about 10:43am. Sample was collected and tested at the National Public health reference Laboratory. The positive test result was received at 3pm on 1th March 2020. This is the first confirmed to be reported in Liberia since the beginning of the pandemic in China in December 2019. Within 12hours, the case-patient had been isolated, contact identification, listing and monitoring commenced, and National Public Health Emergency declared and WHO notified”.

Harrison Karnwea is the former Managing Director of the Liberia Forestry Development Authority (FDA). Mr. Karnwea believes Dr. Nathaniel Blama needs moral support during his time of ailment, rather than persecution.

“It is so disheartening that responsible people within our society will not empathize with a fellow citizen who contracted illness in foreign country but criticize him and make him look like a common criminal. We all need to pray for Dr. Blamah and all the people he has been in contact with since he got back for speedy recovery and protection by God,” said Karnwea.

Continuing, Mr. Karnwea thanked Joel Kennedy for the prayers and words of encouragement to Dr. Nathaniel Blamah, “a colleague who up to yesterday was the head of EPA. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the focal point for UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, GEF (Green Economy Fund) a UN backed fund for integrated and sustainable development through low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive development and GCF (Green Climate Fund), a unique global platform to respond to climate change by investing in low-emission and climate-resilient development. GCF was established by 194 governments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in developing countries, and to help vulnerable societies adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Given the urgency and seriousness of this challenge, GCF is mandated to make an ambitious contribution to the united global response to climate change.”

Mr. Karnwea said, in Liberia, EPA has been able to source funding for the coastal defense works along our Atlantic Coast both in Monrovia and Buchanan.

“Dr. Nathaniel and his colleagues at the EPA including Benjamin Karmorh and Jeremiah Sokan; Ben is the focal point for UNFCC while Jeremiah is the head of Liberian Climate Change Secretariat – have every reason to continue to travel to the meetings of the institutions mentioned above in order to be able to make Liberia’s case at these meetings. Nat, I stand with you and like Mr. Kennedy, a Journalist, I pray for your speedy recovery. Just put the radio off, turn the phones off and concentrate on your treatment because reading and listening to all that is being said will distract and distress you”, Mr. Karnwea opined.

Meanwhile, the government has announced that a second Liberian has been tested positive for the Coronavirus disease. The new case, Johnny Phillips, is a domestic worker in the home of Nathaniel Blama, the suspended head of the Environmental Protection Agency who earlier tested positive for the disease.

Health workers have determined that Phillips was a primary contact of Mr. Blama when he returned to his residence. They are continuing to trace and test several primary and secondary persons who he might have come in contact with. This exercise is continuing rigorously.

The government urges all to continue to observe the health protocols that have been put in place by the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute. The Incident Management Team meets today (March 17), following which there will be additional measures put in place to curtail transmission of the disease.

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