Report By Reuben Sei Waylaun
Monrovia – The novel coronavirus is having a serious toll on health facilities across the country, while making patients afraid of seeking medical services due to widespread misperception that patients’ specimens are being secretly collected for testing.
Since the outbreak began in the country, the Ministry of Health has been pushing for voluntary testing as part of efforts to curb the spread of the virus. But with signs and symptoms of COVID-19 similar to other diseases, other patients are turning away from health facilities as the government insists on strict adherence to health protocols including triaging and social distancing.
This is causing people to have the perception that samples or specimens might be secretly collected from them and tested for COVID-19 without their consent. Like the deadly Ebola Virus Disease, misinformation and rumors about the coronavirus pandemic is also instilling fears in Liberians.
Some hospital administrators say they have noticed significant drops in the number of patients seeking treatment since the outbreak began.
Ganta United Methodist Hospital in Nimba County is a major private referral hospital that serves thousands of people in the county and beyond.
Speaking to this paper, the Officer-In-Charge at the hospital’s Outpatient Department (or OPD), Gabriel Tonsiah, confirmed that the number of people seeking treatment at the facility has dropped since Liberia recorded its first case of COVID-19.
“We used to have influx [of patients] prior to COVID-19, keeping us busy from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. but it has dropped drastically,” explains Tonsiah, who added that “there is a perception among patients that whenever they come to the hospital, their specimen will be collected and later [they will be] called that they are positive with the virus.”
He continued: “At the end of the day, we couldn’t even run the OPD like it used to be before COVID-19. Based on this, we only run the OPD from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. instead of the regular 5:00 p.m. Sometimes, we don’t have patients at all until we return home.”
Tonsiah said the misinformation is also impacting the turnout of pregnant women and women who should be seeking prenatal and postnatal healthcare.
“They have decided to do their delivery at the community level,” he said, adding that only emergency cases are now brought to the hospital. “Only few women [are] giving birth at the hospital and begin immediate vaccination for their babies.”
Like the major referral hospital, the Agape Health Center Ganta City is also experiencing a decline in patients since the outbreak.
Jackson S. Quoiba, the Officer-In-Charge (OIC), said before the pandemic, the facility catered to at least 30 patients a day, but the number has dropped.
“Even to get 10 patients a day [now] is a serious problem,” Quoiba said. “It has been extremely difficult. They [patients] are afraid that health practitioners are secretly collecting their specimen for COVID-19.”
Quoibia said patients are now relying on pharmacies and drug stores where they buy drugs to do treatment at home. He added that pregnant women are also not seeking treatment at the facility despite the availability of free services for them.
“At our OICs’ meeting, it was reported that women only go to hospital for delivery because there is a law prohibiting home delivery.”
In addition to the misperception that patients’ specimens are being secretly collected for testing, strict adherence to social distancing at health facilities is also affecting the daily influx of patients.
At the Soniwein Health Center in Central Monrovia, Madam Irene Sherman-Esin said the number of patients visiting the facility has similarly reduced, due the health protocols ordered by the Ministry of Health.
“A small number of patients are taken in the facility one after the other to avoid overcrowding,” Sherman-Esin said. “Patients visiting the facility have been mandated to follow all of the health measures employed by the government.”
While some people say they prefer treating themselves at home because they are afraid of contracting the virus at health facilities, other patients have complained that health workers gave them drugs and asked that they administer them at home – with little explanation as to why they could not receive treatment at the health centers.
“The nurses did my test and I was given few drugs, but they gave me my drugs to take home, and find someone to give me it without telling me why. I have the drugs, but there is no one to give me it,” said Yatta Sawyer, a 60-year-old woman.
Meanwhile, Ma Weedor Kollie, 45, says she is avoiding having to visit any health center, because she does not want to be secretly tested for the virus.
“When you get malaria or high fever, the nurses can say you get coronavirus and they will keep you at the hospital for some time. This is why I have not gone to hospital since the virus [outbreak began],” Ma Weedor said.