By Prince C. Kamara
The devastating effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continue around the world. As China begins its recovery process, the disease has deeply penetrated Europe and North America. By all indications, Europe is now the epicentre with Italy being the hardest hit country and others like Germany, Spain among others reporting a steep rise in infections.
As of Sunday, 22 March 2020, Italy had more deaths from COVID-19, than the number of deaths from Ebola in Sierra Leone over three years. CNN reported about 26,000 cases in the US and globally exceeded 300, 000. Africa has not been spared either.
Following a visit to the 34 Military Hospital by the former presidential candidate and Leader of National Grand Coalition (NGC) party, Hon. Dr. Kandeh Yumkella to test the hospital’s preparedness (by extension the country’s preparedness) for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Dr. Yumkella says he is impressed with what he discovered and is theerefore confident that the country “seems ready to handle a small-scale initial outbreak if it occurs,” but that, “the jury is still out on our readiness to handle a major outbreak of COVID-19.”
Giving his impressions about his visit to 34 Military Hospital, dr. Yumkella says: “I decided to stop by the 34 Military Hospital (34-MH) to ask for a Coronavirus test. I also wanted to experience first-hand what a citizen will go through if he/she required a test. Will the system work? I was pleasantly surprised by the vigilance and preparedness of the military personnel.
“From the gate, I was asked to wash my hands; I was properly directed to the new infectious disease cum biosecurity center which was established through the generous donation of the People’s Republic of China. I was quickly ushered in to meet Colonel Sevalie, one of the senior ISAT commanders.
“Colonel Sevalie and his team followed international triage protocols to interview me. They asked me why did I want to be tested? What were my symptoms? They also asked whether I was in a country or city with a significant incidence of COVID-19. Given my responses, they decided that I did not need the test because there were no symptoms and I was not from a high-risk country.
“They also explained that with the limited amount of test kits and cost of reagents, they will reserve the tests for real COVID-19 cases and cannot afford to test every flu case. When I mentioned that I was on my way to parliament for a debate on the COVID-19, they offered to show me their infrastructure and answered my many inquisitive questions. A summary of what I saw and heard is given below:
“There are 370 test kits available in the whole country and 150 are at 34-MH. Of the 150 test kits available at this RSLAF center, 100 are for nucleic acid tests that will take 6-hours and are more definitive, and the remaining 50 are rapid test kits that can be done within 30-minutes. Whether there are test kits available in every district is not known.
“Our Rapidly Deployable Isolation Treatment Facility (RDTIF) consists of 36 beds, 4 ambulances and other equipment (a leftover from the Ebola epidemic). This is the set of equipment the military will quickly deploy along with their well- trained men and women should we have a sudden surge of infections in a region. Unfortunately, they have only one RDTIF, and ideally, they need two to three. Reports indicate that there are at least 40 additional ambulances ready
“The officers also expressed the urgent need for expanding the rapid deployment capacity for ISAT; strengthening the intensive care facility which currently has only two cardiac monitoring equipment which is critical for all serious cases; and scaling up the supply of consumables such as gloves, masks, PPEs.
“The officers lamented that the country does not have enough lab technicians with ability to do sophisticated lab analysis and would like opportunities for advanced training.
“An oxygen making plant will be established in the coming week to ensure continuous availability of supply (a must for COVID-19 patients who require assisted breathing equipment).”
He adds “I thank the ministers and government officers who spent valuable time with us (Parliament) and listened to our queries and suggestions. The discussions, indeed, were non-partisan and focused on the safety, health and well-being of our people.”
He maintains however that despite the enlightening briefings and debates in Parliament on the country’s readiness as a nation for COVID-19, the truth is there are many unknowns about the viral disease, given its speed of transmission which seems to confound even the best experts around the globe.
According to him, “We have an army of trained contact tracing personnel, and over one hundred staff in the ministry of health with basic training in epidemiology and solid experience gained from the Ebola era. However, if we have a major breakout, we need to quickly mobilize many more. One wonders whether we need to have a regularly trained epidemic reserve team of say 300 volunteers that are regularly trained to be a standby force in this epidemic prone neighborhood of ours.”
He added that the government has already provided Le2 billion to the Ministry of Health in the past two weeks to support their initial interventions and that an integrated plan is being worked on in co-operation with donors, which will require hundreds of billions of Leones. “There is good will shown by the World Bank (potentially $12 million) and potential to source more funds,” he added.
He said that behavioral change in individuals including the simple hand washing measure, no handshakes and social distancing mitigation measures is imperative, adding that the success of the Ebola response was built on what individuals did for themselves, their families, their neighbourhood, and communities. “Therefore, what needs to be given high priority is individual contributions by the average “Joe at Tengbeh Town,” Dr. Yumkella stressed.
Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is former presidential candidate and Leader of National Grand Coalition (NGC) and Member of Parliament representing Constituency 062 – Samu Chiefdom, Kambia District.