As cases of COVID-19 surges in Bong County, many residents have been concerned about the closure of a major health facilities in the county, making access to health care increasingly difficult for thousands of people. But when the Phebe Hospital reopened its doors on July 20, it came after many residents of the county had struggled to get medical service for almost a month.
Phebe Hospital, a major referral health facility in central Liberia, was temporarily shut down on June 26 for 96 hours, based on advice from Liberia’s COVID-19 Incident Management System (IMS), headed by Dr. Samson Arzoaquoio. The decision was made after a handful of confirmed coronavirus cases were recorded at the facility.
The initially 4-day closure was intended to allow time to properly disinfect the building. However, it has now been more than three weeks since the health facility was closed to the public.
Another health facility that was also closed is the African Fundamental Baptist Mission (AFBM) medical health center in Gbarnga – the capital city of Bong County. However, the AFBM medical health center has recently reopened, following more than three weeks of shut down.
As Phebe Hospital remained shut, there were growing fears that it might lead to compounded problems for the county health system, which is now already stretched by the COVID-19 pandemic.
James Namolon Paye, a resident of the county, said that when hospital was closed, it posed serious difficulty to the wellbeing of the common people.
“You’re aware that Phebe is the only referral hospital in Bong County – [and it is] where our brothers and sisters that can’t afford to go to private health facilities, go for treatment. Today, because Phebe is closed, our people were going to drug stores to purchase drugs without a proper checkup,” said the father of five.
Paye’s concerns echo the situation of another Bong County resident, 34-year-old Martha Johnson. The resident of Kpatayemah Town, Suakoko District, was abruptly discharged from Phebe hospital after she had undergone surgery.
“I was made to leave the hospital by the administration after it was closed to the public, with my stomach opened,” she said.
“So, currently I am taking [follow-up] treatment in a private health center in Gbarnga, but the clinic is very much expensive.”
With the hospital now reopened, it is unclear whether it will readmit patients like Martha who were abruptly discharged.
Another Bong County resident, Amos Kollie, said due to closure of the health facility, he was constrained to take his daughter to neighboring Nimba County to ensure she gets proper medical treatment.
“My first time going to Nimba was last week Monday, when my daughter felt sick – and thinking that Phebe was opened, I took her there. I was finally told that the center was closed and looking at the condition of my child, I ended up taking her to Nimba for treatment,” Kollie explains.
With the economic hardship coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, Kollie said traveling to Nimba with his daughter was very expensive and risky.
Samuel Kplaiwru, who serves as Phebe Hospital’s Communications Director, said at the time that the hospital would remain closed until the County Treatment Unit (CTU) is ready to care for COVID-19 patients in the county.
Mr. Kplaiwru said all the positive COVID-19 cases in the county are being isolated in a section of the Hospital – where they are undergoing treatments.
“You’re aware that the hospital got contaminated after the Medical Director of the hospital, Dr. Jefferson Sibley – [along with] several other nurses at the hospital – tested positive for the virus,” he said.
“And for it to be decontaminated, the entire facility needs to be sprayed [disinfected] before it can cater to [non-coronavirus] patients.”
The county’s treatment center now has a relatively situatable capacity to take in COVID-19 patients and so those at Phebe has been transferred at the center.
Bong County Superintendent Esther Y. Walker said that the county was doing all it can to get the CTU ready, despite financial constraints.
Madam Walker admitted that people of the county were finding it “very difficult to get quality healthcare services”, while the hospital was closed.
But Jesse B. Cole, the Founder and Executive Director for the DELTA Human Rights Foundation, who spoke to LocalVoicesLiberia before the reopening of the facility, was worried that Bong County might just record more confirmed cases of COVID-19, and people may die from other sicknesses if the major referral hospital had remained closed.
“Why close Phebe, knowing squarely that this is the only referral hospital in the County that caters to starving citizens from different parts of Bong and surrounding counties? I think this government is not treating our people well,” Cole said, while calling on the Ministry of Health to speedily reopen the facility.
Bong County Health Officer, Adolphus Yeiah says that since the closure of Phebe, other health centers have become overburdened.
Dr. Yeiah stated that it is “embarrassing and troubling” for a major hospital to be closed, adding that “our people are suffering; leaving from here to Nimba and other areas for treatments.”
He then appealed to the county authorities and well-meaning people of the county to support the healthcare delivery system to curb the spread of COVID-19.