COVID-19 Observation Center Ensuring Safety, Reducing Stigma in Liberia

Posted on Jul 29, 2020

PIH-supported J.J. Dossen Hospital in Maryland County, Liberia
PIH-supported J.J. Dossen Hospital is a hub for comprehensive care in Maryland County, Liberia. Rebecca E. Rollins / PIH

Robert-Lee Dahn’s successful stay in a precautionary observation center for COVID-19 in Maryland County, Liberia, has enabled him to safely reunite with his family, rejoin his community, and improve local perceptions about quarantining during the pandemic.

Dahn, 43, is a regular volunteer in the non-communicable disease clinic at J.J. Dossen Hospital in Maryland County, in Liberia's south. Partners In Health supports J.J. Dossen, which provides comprehensive health services in collaboration with the national government and the Maryland County Health Team.

Dahn found himself receiving care rather than providing it, though, after a potential brush with COVID-19 this spring. A nursing student, Dahn was selected earlier this year for a three-month internship at Jackson F. Doe Memorial Regional Referral Hospital, in central Liberia.

On the last day of his internship, in April, a patient at Jackson F. Doe died of COVID-19. As a potential contact of the patient, the tragic loss bore implications for not only Dahn’s health, but also his ability to return home.  

A precautionary observation center made that return possible.

Opening of COVID-19 observation center in Harper, Liberia
Dr. Methodius George, government health officer for Maryland County, Liberia, addresses clinicians during the opening of a PIH-supported COVID-19 observation center in Harper, Liberia, in April. (Amy McLaughlin / PIH)

PIH worked with Liberia’s Ministry of Health, National Public Health Institute, and the county health team to set up the observation center in April. The 26-bed center is in a renovated school building in the coastal city of Harper, and supports the government’s COVID-19 response across Maryland County.

The center accommodates people who have traveled from high-risk areas, may have contacted someone with COVID-19, or who exhibit symptoms such as a cough, fever, sore throat, or difficulty breathing.

When Dahn arrived at the center, staff taught him how to follow the facility’s extensive safety protocols and receive the support he needed while in quarantine.

“The clinical team and psychosocial team were very friendly and provided counselling support, with so much care and attention,” Dahn said. “We also received three meals a day, safe drinking water, toiletries, and other supplies.”

Dahn said when he first learned he’d need to stay at the center in quarantine, he was nervous—but counselors assured him it was a precautionary measure, to protect himself and others.

After 14 days at the observation center, Dahn did not show any signs of infection. His successful stay meant that after traveling back to Harper from a high-risk area and an internship at a hospital with COVID-19 patients, he could safely return home and reunite with his family.

“My isolation sent a clear message out there that being quarantined is not a death sentence, but instead, a precautionary measure for the safety of yourself, your family members and the community,” he said.

Dahn now is healthy and has continued his volunteer work at J.J. Dossen, caring for patients in the non-communicable disease clinic.

“I was well-received by my family and friends. My community has embraced and accepted me with open arms, without any form of stigmatization,” he said. “Everyone expressed delight that I was finally out and released from quarantine. I also feel that I have sent a positive message to the public about the need to be quarantined, without any fears or anxiety, when necessary.”

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