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Fear of Ebola cripples Liberia's healthcare system

By Agencies in Monrovia, Liberia | China Daily | Updated: 2014-10-11 07:42

The two women came from opposite ends of Liberian society - one a beauty queen and daughter of a prominent lawmaker, the other an ordinary homemaker from a remote northern town.

When they needed urgent healthcare, however, these differences meant little. Neither had the deadly Ebola infection, but both were turned away from hospitals overrun by an outbreak that has killed more than 3,800 people, 2,200 in Liberia alone.

In the end, it was Comfort Fayiah, the ordinary 27-year-old, who survived, giving birth to twins in the street as passers-by did what they could to provide some privacy.

Nikita Forh, 21, died at her father's plush Monrovia home, unable to secure the treatment she needed to fend off an asthma attack after doctors at the JFK Hospital in the capital demanded a certificate proving she did not have Ebola.

"I told them that if I carried my daughter home, she would not make it through the night, but they did not listen," Edward Forh, a member of the house of representatives for Montserrado County, told national radio.

"My daughter died before my eyes like a dog. Those nurses killed my child," he said. "I will sue the government."

Liberia's Medical and Dental Council said it was investigating Forh's case and warned that any medical staff caught rejecting or refusing sick people would be investigated.

"We took an oath to restore or protect lives," Dr John Mulbah, the council's director, told a news conference.

With Ebola, that oath has become much more complicated. Medics lacking equipment and training fear exposing themselves and other patients to Ebola.

The cases highlight how the trail of social and human destruction that Ebola has left in its wake in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea extends far beyond those who contract the deadly hemorrhagic fever.

Health systems that before Ebola were already struggling to tackle problems ranging from malaria to complicated pregnancies have become utterly overwhelmed.

Many clinics that became places of infection rather than treatment were shut down. Health systems have been gutted of personnel, some afraid to come to work as their peers have succumbed to the deadly virus.

Liberia only had about 50 trained doctors for the country's 4 million people before Ebola struck.

Liberia is gradually scaling up the number of emergency treatment centers from six to around 20.

Presidential powers

Liberian lawmakers debated on Friday whether to grant President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf more power to restrict movement and public gatherings in the fight against Ebola as one parliamentarian warned that the country could turn into a "police state".

State media said the House of Representatives would convene a special session on Friday to discuss the proposed measures outlined in an Oct 1 letter. The contentious proposals include the power to restrict public gatherings and appropriate property "without payment of any kind or any further judicial process" to combat Ebola.

Reuters - AP


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