Harper City, Maryland County – Felecia Togba Wah, 41, a mother of five children, did not trust health facilities during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Maryland County. She and her family relied on drug stores for basic health care services.
It was a risky decision, but Felecia insists rumors and misinformation about how people could be infected with COVID-19 at health facilities made her scared. By then, the county had recorded 33 confirmed cases with two deaths, according to the National Public Health Institute of Liberia.
“During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, many of us especially mothers with many children used the drugstores and private clinics to seek treatment because we were afraid of contracting the virus,” she said. Before the coronavirus, I most often used the government health facilities in the county, but since the virus came in our County, I thought it wise to get my pills from the drugstore in Harper.”
With low confirmed cases of COVID-19 now being recorded in Maryland County coupled with increasing awareness about the pandemic, residents, who recently spoke with LocalVoicesLiberia, have given some commendations to local drugstores.
There are over 50 drugstores in the county that have been certified by the county’s Board of Pharmacy.
Mr. Willington Kyne, City Mayor of Pleebo City, describes the role of the drugstores as “timely and important,” adding that when citizens could not get access to nearby government health facility, the drugstores were there.
Like Felecia, Rebeca Toe, mother of three kids and a resident of White Street community in Harper, said during the lockdown, she managed to get most pills from a drugstore in her community.
“It was challenging for me and my family especially during the 3:00 Pm state of emergency here in Harper. To get some essential drugs from the government hospital it was not easy,” she said.
“Let be real here, drugstore owners if I was having money, I would give them a flower for strongly supporting the government’s hospital across the county during the outbreak.”
Jerome Y. Wallace, 51, father of seven, said transportation was another factor that made access to health facilities impracticable, thereby prompting people to turn to drugstores.
“During the lockdown, it was very difficult to get motorbike to go to the hospital, so I have no option but to use the drugstore in my community to treat myself and children,” he said.
For Philip Waka, a local businessman of Pleebo, the outbreak created fear amongst many community members and dampened their confidence in health facilities.
This made people to turn to drugstores, says Mr. Waka while recalling that drugstores were always ready to respond to customers even at odd hours. He asserts that drugstores are becoming more efficient in providing services to communities.
“In times past we found it difficult to get certain medicines the doctors prescribed for us, but now I can go in any drugstore when the doctor gives me paper to get drugs,” added Philomena Elliot, 48, a resident of Zone Four community in Pleebo.
Meanwhile, some owners of drugstores and pharmacies have disclosed that they experienced a massive influx of customers during the height of the outbreak. Abdullah B. Barry is the manager of Hope Drugstore in Harper. He told LocalVoicesLiberia that despite the influx of customers, drugstores in Harper district were “closely working in line with the County Health Team Pharmacy Board to ensuring that all Covid-19 Health Protocols are observed.”
Another drugstore owner, Aaron D. Parjibo of Trust God Drugstore in Pleebo, said during the peak of the outbreak, they also provided frequent first aid to many residents in compliance with the county health team’s regulation.
“We did not only sell pills to customers, but we also did some first aid treatments like, high Malaria, Typhon and running stomach,” says Aaron Parjibo, adding that the health team regularly monitored to ensure adherence to the protocol.
“We most often referred complicated cases to the hospital for further investigation and treatment and we most of the time sell drugs prescribed by the hospital to our clients,” he said.
Emmanuel Agu, who manages the pharmacy at the main referral hospital of the county, hailed the contribution of drugstores to health care delivery in the county.
“During the lockdown, we experienced low turnout of patients at every government health facility in the county; but I think they were getting drugs from where else, and that area is drugstores,” Mr. Agu said.
But Dr. Methodius George, Maryland County Health Team Officer, said despite the role of the drugstores in the county, the health team is keen on ensuring regular supplies of drugs at health facilities.
“It is true that drugstores and pharmacies are providing requisite drugs to patients prescribed by health workers, but our primary objective is for life to be saved,” he said. “The location of one’s treatment does not matter but what matter most is for the life of that individual to be secured.”
He emphasized that the contributions of drugstores and pharmacies is a boost to the health sector but also encouraged residents of the county to regain confidence in health facilities during the pandemic.