PIH Liberia, Government Partners Establish New COVID-19 Center
In collaboration with Liberia’s Ministry of Health, National Public Health Institute, and Maryland County Health Team, Partners In Health Liberia is operating a 26-bed quarantine center in the coastal city of Harper, supporting the government’s COVID-19 response across Maryland County in Liberia’s southeast.
The center will accommodate people who have traveled from high-risk areas, along with those who have potentially contacted someone positive for COVID-19, or exhibit symptoms including a cough, fever, sore throat, or difficulty breathing.
In addition to the 26 isolated beds, the center is equipped with hand-washing stations, water tanks, gender-friendly washrooms, blood pressure equipment, oxygen saturation machines, medical thermometers, and more. PIH is operating the center alongside national and county partners, supporting their efforts to identify COVID-19 cases and minimize spread of the viral disease.
“A well-equipped and dignified Precautionary Observation Center is an essential part of community-based infectious disease management and prevention,” said Dr. Maxo Luma, executive director of PIH Liberia. “Using this space, we are able to quarantine COVID-19 contacts to keep our communities safe, while ensuring those exposed to COVID-19 receive the medical attention and psychosocial support they need.”
Clinicians at PIH-supported Pleebo Health Center, north of Harper, reported their first confirmed case of COVID-19 in April. Shortly after, PIH and the county health team set up the quarantine center at Harper’s Cape Palmas High School, which the national government had designated for use in the country’s COVID-19 response.
Managing cases at the center is a joint effort between PIH Liberia and the county health team, with PIH clinicians and mental health staff providing care and social support alongside technical support from the county team.
Clinicians at the center had monitored 21 patients total as of June 1 for COVID-19 symptoms, regularly checking their temperature, blood pressure and oxygen levels, while sending samples for testing in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. By the end of May, Clinicians had designated a group of 17 patients as stable and ready to be discharged, enabling them to safely return to their families and communities.
As of June 1, the confirmed case from April remained Pleebo’s only positive case. Four people who had traveled into Liberia were under observation at Pleebo Health Center as of that date.
Melvin Tamba, clinical mentor coordinator for PIH Liberia, said it took the team a week to set up the quarantine center in Harper, with help from volunteers. But the group also faced initial public sentiment against using the school for COVID-19 care, because of concerns about infection risks.
The county health team and local authorities addressed those concerns with a public awareness campaign about the health protocols implemented to prevent spread of the virus among the public.
“In order to prepare the quarantine center within a week, PIH, the county health team and volunteers from the Red Cross and Integrated Development Youth cleaned and disinfected the center before setting up,” Tamba said.
The group partitioned a block of six classrooms into safe, isolated spaces of about six beds per room, to limit exposure and safely provide hygiene and infection control supplies for each patient.
The group also set up hand-washing stations with clean water and soap at every entrance and exit, to limit the spread of the virus and help patients safely meet health protocols and social distancing measures.
The center is staffed 24 hours a day by medical clinicians, psychosocial clinicians, and security personnel, who work in shifts to check vital signs, monitor new patients and give care when necessary. Two custodial workers also are on duty, cleaning all surfaces and washrooms to ensure patients’ safety.
Dr. Francis Ketah, Liberia’s national chief medical officer, received keys to the quarantine center on behalf of the county health team, at a ceremony marking its opening. Ketah expressed his appreciation for PIH’s continuous work to strengthen the country’s health system, and for its leadership role in fighting COVID-19 in Maryland County. Also at the opening ceremony were PIH Liberia staff, leadership of PIH-supported J.J. Dossen Hospital and of Tubman University, local authorities, and community leaders.
Isaac Dolo, senior clinical mentor for PIH-Liberia, emphasized that the quarantine center will offer psychosocial support to patients, as well as medical care.
“We seek to give the utmost care, including psychological counseling, and the unit will keep people from high-risk zones and situations under close observation, until they clearly manifest symptoms or are safely discharged, in order to ensure public safety,” Dolo said.