By Ahmed Sirleaf
It baffles me to see how the United States government is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The response is dismally inimical to what other countries are doing to curb the Corona torment. The focus on social distancing alone is not enough. While social distancing slows the rapid spread of the virus, it only buys us time to implement an eradication response.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Health and a member of the White House’s COVID-19 Taskforce has warned that “it will get worse before it gets better,” he has said at every opportunity. “We have to fight to flatten the curve,” Fauci often adds.
Dr. Fauci’s point is that all the measures now being pursued, most of which came belatedly, will only help but that the virus is here and it is spreading. People will get sick, and people will die—a grim reality. President Trump evoked the Presidential Emergency Declaration freeing up federal resources and The Defense Production Act (DPA), a 1950 law enacted to grant unprecedented powers to the Federal Government over private sector companies. All well and good.
However, the US would have needed none of these extraordinary actions, most likely if it had taken the fight to the virus to eradicate it. Like in the case of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014. The Government of Liberia (GOL), for example, was initially equally dislodged on several fronts when the Ebola hit. The GOL struggled with coordination-their public health messaging was inadequate, mired in inconsistencies. It was confusing and disjointed. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf put in place an Ebola Emergency Taskforce that would turn things around later, but the US Army Medical Team that arrived in the country, set up shop to fight the virus, was a significant factor in stopping the spread of the virus.
Aside from the fact that the Ebola virus disease quickly overwhelmed the country’s fragile public health system, no one had dealt with a health crisis of the magnitude. The contagious nature of the disease let alone its high fatality rates mortified public officials for they knew not what to do, neither did the population. Fears mounted, and the people became hopeless-distrust of the government set in-emotions flared up to a point where President Sirleaf declared a state of emergency. The fragile economy took a hit-people were dying and suffering,
Deploy the Incident Management System- Find it. Solve it. Learn! The GOL and its partners instituted an aggressive incident management regime. When an incident of a positive test was detected, they quarantined and treated the primary source and contact traced aggressively identifying all primary, secondary, and tertiary interactions of a diagnosed individual. Contract tracing with systemic and continuous testing of suspected cases will gradually remove the virus from the population as opposed to keeping the virus in the community. Social distancing only keeps carriers and non-carriers apart from each other for a while. In fact, in some countries, social distancing may not be useful. The virus will continue to attack. Take the fight to the virus and eradicate it.
Ahmed Sirleaf was the Learning Advisor for USAID/Liberia during the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic and was a member of the Mission’s EVD Response Team. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org