Robertsport – Since the outbreak of coronavirus in Liberia began back in March this year, Grand Cape Mount County has recorded only one confirmed case of COVID-19 – making it the country with the lowest confirmed infection rate amongst the country’s 15 counties.
Report By: Saah Hudson, LMD Responsible Health Reporting Fellow
This apparent success against the pandemic is recorded amid massive awareness and community engagement that already seems to be gaining root in the county.
Robertsport, the county’s capital city, has not recorded any confirmed case of COVID-19. The county’s only confirmed case was a police officer who tested positive in Kinjor Town – a community close to a mining concession. The patient has since recovered.
Anthony Kiazolu, the head of the COVID-19 awareness task force for Grand Cape Mount County, says communities are following the preventive measures to avoid getting infected – adding that the task force ensures adherence to the wearing of nose mask and social distancing in public areas.
“We as task force members are charged with the responsibility of making sure passengers that leave from places and enter Robertsport [are] always wearing nose mask before entering the city or before leaving. This is working well for all of us because we are yet to receive a [confirmed] case of coronavirus in Robertsport,” he said.
“We have had meetings with our drivers and motorcyclists, telling them that if a rider, driver or passengers are on board a vehicle or on a bike without wearing nose mask, the driver or rider will pay a fine for violation and if he refuses, his car or bike will be parked [impounded] until he pays the fine.”
Adherence to the health protocol seems to be commonplace amongst residents of the city, which has over 4,000 residents, according to the country’s 2008 national census. Marketers, motorcyclists, and cross border traders have all vowed to ensure they promote the preventive health measures.
The Association of Women in Cross Border Trade (AWICBT) in the county is also leading the awareness campaign. Martha N. Mendimasa is the head of AWICBT. During a recent awareness event in Porkpa District, which also saw the training of 10 of the association’s members on how to conduct COVID-19 prevention awareness, she told reporters that the association is targeting 20 communities in which to offer targeted COVID-19 awareness-raising activities.
“We have been charged with a responsibility of making sure we reach out to our people in this part of Cape Mount, in the 20 selected towns and villages, to tell them what we have learned,” Mendimasa said.
“We will make sure we do our messages in simple English, Vai, Mende and Gola – but mostly in Mende, as it is the widely spoken dialect [traditional language] here, so that they can understand the preventive measures of coronavirus.”
In addition to carrying out the awareness activities, the group is also providing hand washing buckets and powder soap to several communities.
In Robertsport, businesswoman Bendu Fahnbulleh says increasing awareness is a good chance of stopping the spread of the virus. Bendu, who is an ardent listener of local radio stations to understand more about the virus, called on other residents to learn more about COVID-19.
“I always listen to Radio Piso here and they are doing good for us because I can hear something — many Coronavirus messages [are] done in our dialects which help us to be safe and alive, and it is really helping me and some of my friends that can listen to radio,” she explains, while wearing a mask covering her nose and mouth.
“We have to always wash our hands [with soap], always practice social distancing and wear nose mask as you can see me wearing mine.”
Another businesswoman, Isatu Barlo says that, despite the economic challenges imposed by the pandemic, abiding by the health regulation is crucial to staying safe.
“As you can see, I am selling my fish with my nose mask on and when someone comes to buy I can tell them to dress and not come too close to me because I don’t know whether the person is sick,” she said.
“When you come buy from me, I get my bucket of water right [at] my market table and I can tell the person who’s coming buy to please wash their hands before we do business.”
Businessman Abraham Sonii of Robersport, who also joined the awareness campaign, is impressed with the level of sensitization that has been ongoing.
“I’m so happy that our city is free from the virus, [but] that doesn’t mean we should stop doing what the health people told us to do so that we can be safe,” he said.
“Coronavirus messages are like ABC songs, because we can hear it every day and we can see papers all around telling us to wash our hands always, avoid hands shaking, sneeze in your elbow and use nose mask when necessary. All of this helps to keep us safe when we do it.”
Despite the progress, there are concerns that some people are still breaching the health protocols. Accusing fingers are being pointed at motorists including drivers of motorcycle taxis.
In Teinii Town, Tewor District, which is over 30 miles away from Robertsport City, youth leader Terrance Kamara has called for stringent penalties for motorcyclists who violate the health protocol while commuting passengers.
“Those who are in the constant habit of carrying two or more passengers, when they are caught, they should pay a fine of L$2,000 for violation and it will be good for all of us,” he said.
“Motorcyclists are mostly guys who are hustling for survival but don’t mind the hustle and infect yourself by carrying two or more passengers and not even wearing nose masks. You should know that nose masks will help you from not getting the virus.”
Meanwhile, health facilities across the county have enhanced strict adherence to the wearing of nose mask. Patients must abide before they are treated.
“We make sure all patients that are coming for treatment can only enter through the gate of the fence when you have nose mask and will not allow anyone without nose mask,” said Hawa Smith, a physician assistant at the St. Timothy Government Hospital in Robertsport. “You will have to wash your hands, do your temperature test before coming for the doctor to see you.”
Smith says the COVID-19 statistics show the progress the county is making and the impact of community members’ adherence to the preventive measures.
“The case or cases of confirmed coronavirus can relate as since the pronouncement of a lone case couple of months ago, we are yet to announce any case of such, and I’m calling on everyone to still follow all health protocols to stay safe,” she said.