Montserrado County – Refuge Place International, the largest clinic in the Chicken Soup Factory’s Bassa Town Community, provides affordable health care services to majority of the population. It also renders free treatments for people with disabilities, Ebola survivors and old folks.
But when COVID-19 hit Liberia, the health care center began experiencing massive reduction in the number of patients that sought its services.
Mr. Ballah Davis is the administrator of the clinic. He recalls that when the first COVID-19 index case was announced on March 16, 2020 in Liberia, “misconception, fear and denial” about the pandemic undermined health services for other patients.
“Most people didn’t understand what Covid-19 was all about and a lot of people were trying to avoid reliving their experience with Ebola,” Davis said. “While it’s true that there were other people who were in denial, saying Covid-19 isn’t here, there were some who just stopped coming to the clinic because they were afraid, they had the misconception that if they come to the clinic, they’d be tested positive of coronavirus and would be quarantined”.
Also, the Jaw Community Clinic in the Kesselly Boulevard Community, Grandersville was challenged at the start of the pandemic in the country.
“From the onset of the pandemic, we experienced a very low rate of people coming to the facility for fear that somebody will be diagnosed of coronavirus,” explains Arthur G Wrueh, the clinic’s administrator.
“People decided to sit home and buy pills from the bucket or the drugstore; they did it for some time and after time went on COVID-19 couldn’t break, few of them started to come back to the clinic.”
One of the major challenges the clinic endured at the start of the global health crisis was the lack of medical materials including personal protective equipment (PPEs). It became increasingly difficult to procure gloves, Wrueh said.
“We couldn’t get gloves so easily, we went here and there sometimes we used one pair of gloves for two days,” he added. “If we got patients, we sterilized it to use it for the next day. That’s what we were doing for three to four months until we were able to get supplies from friends in nearby clinics.”
Meanwhile, in Monrovia’s biggest slum of West Point, the Lady Star of the Sea Health Center which serves a community of about 75,000 people also saw a drop in the visit of patients at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Many people stayed away from the clinic,” says the clinic administrator, Ms. Maima Smith. “Most of the few ones coming did not want to accept wearing the mask and other preventive measures,” adding that misinformation about the pandemic was either scaring people away from health facilities or making them ignore the preventive measures.
“We encouraged community dwellers to make use of the facilities until WHO can tell us the disease is clear from the country order than that, continue wearing your mask, make use of the facilities and health centers,” said Ms. Smith. “Been treated at home is very bad, before you get to know it sometimes the disease has gone very bad and you’ve spread it so much.”
Annie Sayon, 48, is a resident of the Bassa Town Community – where the Refuge Place International clinic serves. Annie says “the thing people say about COVID-19” had scared her about clinics.
“The people working over there meet different kind of people every day, what if some of them share the virus,” she said, adding that she has turned to herbal treatment instead.
But Jeremiah Peters, 28, does not agree with Annie. He’s convinced that health facilities are “the only place” his family members would take treatment amid the pandemic.
“Be it COVID-19 or not, it’s always good to go to the health center and get yourself treated rather than staying home,” he said. “If you stay home without knowing what’s wrong with you the sickness might not go from your body but will increase and you’ll cause yourself more harm.”
And Philip Collins,28, who lives couple of blocks away from the Jaw Community Clinic along the Kesselly Boulevard, has regained confidence in the clinic after several months of struggle to understand accurate information about the COVID-19 health crisis.
“Before we heard that People were forcing people to take their test and making people go to the 14 Military Hospital, so I was afraid of going to the clinic or any other health center,” he explains, “but now we don’t hear much about Covid-19, so I’m not afraid of going to the health center again”.
Collins’ point is supported by Ms. Maima Yeaney – a 27 pregnant resident of Kessely Boulevard, who is determined to continue going to clinic regularly vaccination and treatments.
“The nurses advised that I go for regular check-up for safe delivery and for my baby and I to be healthy. I try to prevent myself when I’m at the clinic by wearing mask and washing my hands,” she said.
Patients’ Visit Steadily Improves
Mr. Wrueh, administrator of the Jaw Community Clinic, said when patients started going back to the clinic for treatment, the administartion wanted to know why.
“After questioning them, we were told they were also afraid to come because they didn’t want us to give them coronavirus vaccine,” he said. “Because we have passed through Ebola, few of them were able to follow the preventive measures, but they were afraid because of rumors and misinformation”.
Meanwhile, Mr. Davis of the Refuge Place International recalls that between April and May, the daily patients at the clinic dropped from more than 200 a day to around 15 a day.
The infection rate began to drop by September, after increased awareness that helped curb rumors and misinformation about the pandemic. This has gradually influenced community members regained confidence in the health facilities.
“Over the last two-and-half month, patients have started coming back bit by bit [to the clinic] and fortunately for us in this facility we haven’t experienced anybody coming down [tested positive] with Covid-19,” explains Davis, who added that the administration has been enforcing strict adherence to all the COVID-19 protocols.
“We cannot say Africa or Liberia are not at risk because COVID-19 has not affected us the same way it has affected other countries around the world. There’s absolutely no reason for us to be careless, we must still follow all of the measures set up by the Ministry of Heath”.
According to the National Public Health Institute, as of December 17, Liberia has 290 active confirmed cases of COVID-19. This number is part of a total of 1,779 confirmed cases recorded since March with 1,406 recoveries and 83 deaths.
Seeking Gov’t’s Support
Meanwhile, although the health care facilities are regaining the confidence of community members amid decline in the number of confirmed cases, there are calls for the government to provide support for private community-based clinics during health emergencies.
Mr. Wreuh of Jaw Community Clinic says providing subsidies for community-based clinic will reduce pressure on the health system.
“Most people in the community go to these clinics; they might not have the chance or money to go to the bigger hospitals and so we will encounter them first,” he said.
“So, it’s better for the government to look at us and help various other clinics in the community to enable us work effectively while saving lives, preventing ourselves and the community from getting infected with the virus”.